Asia’s tourist hotspots prepare to boom as China relaxes COVID rules

Asian countries are bracing for an influx of Chinese tourists as COVID restrictions are lifted, and while some are wary, operators in others are preparing packages such as hot pot buffets to cash in on the ‘expected increase in travel.

Chinese tourists will no longer have to quarantine to return home from January. 8, the government announced this week, a move that led to a surge in bookings from what was the world’s largest outbound travel market in 2019.

The $255 billion in annual global spending by Chinese tourists came to a virtual halt during the pandemic, leaving a huge hole in the Asian market, where countries from Thailand to Japan had relied on China as the biggest source of foreign visitors.

VariFlight data shows that international flights there from China are at just 8% of pre-pandemic levels, but carriers are looking to increase capacity as authorities ease limits on the number of flights driven by covid

“There is no doubt that mainland Chinese are the spark plug for Thailand’s tourism recovery,” said Bill Barnett, managing director of hospitality consultancy C9 Hotelworks. “It’s not a question of if it will happen, now it’s just a question of how many and how fast.”

Malaysia Airlines and Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet Aviation said they hope to restore flights from China to pre-pandemic levels by June 2023, while others such as Singapore Airlines and Australia’s Qantas Airways declined to provide detailed targets as the situation evolves.

Chinese airlines are likely to make significant capacity increases starting in late March, coinciding with the start of the summer scheduling season, Morningstar analyst Cheng Weng told clients in a note.

The prospect of cash-rich Chinese hitting high streets around the world boosted luxury stocks this week, with China accounting for 21% of the 350 billion euro ($371.91 billion) global luxury goods market dollars).

Because the Lunar New Year holiday, usually a peak travel period for Chinese tourists, begins in January. 21, some companies are already preparing.

Singapore’s Sofitel Sentosa is creating Lunar New Year packages aimed at Chinese visitors, including a hot pot buffet and romantic packages for couples, said Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of that hotel and the nearby Raffles Sentosa, since the company is betting on an upswing in travel. come “with a vengeance.”

In Japan, tour bus company Hato Bus says next month it will test Chinese-language tours it had halted during the pandemic, aiming for a full resumption in the spring, a spokesman said.

Japan, however, is being cautious about Chinese tourism due to the rapid spread of the virus in China. A negative COVID-19 test is required on arrival for Chinese visitors, and those who test positive must be quarantined for seven days under new border measures that come into effect on December 30.

The United States said it would impose mandatory COVID tests on travelers from China, joining India, Italy and Taiwan in taking new measures, while the Philippines is considering a testing requirement.

Australia, Germany, Thailand and others, however, said they would not impose additional rules on Chinese travel for now, with France taking to social media platform Sina Weibo to emphasize that it welcomed Chinese friends “with open arms open”.

In Vietnam, where tourist visas for Chinese are not yet being issued, the Saigon Halong Hotel in Halong Bay expects to receive Chinese arrivals from the second quarter of next year.

Any hope of a massive uptick in Chinese travel to Australia during the Lunar New Year holiday is likely misplaced, said James Shen, managing director of Melbourne-based travel agency Odyssey Travel, citing rates of very high planes.

“There are still very few flights and they will be booked at the last minute,” he said. “I suspect any significant rebound will have to wait until the travel boom in June or July next year.”

Additional reporting by Isabel Kua in Singapore, Mariko Katsumara in Tokyo, Francesco Guarascio and Khanh Vu in Hanoi, Neil Jerome Morales in Manila and Mei Mei Chu in Kuala Lumpur.

C (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022.

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