Face masks are seen on Buddha statues at a monastery in Pathum Thani, Thailand, May 8, 2020. — REUTERS
BANGKOK/SINGAPORE/SYDNEY — Asian countries are bracing for an influx of Chinese tourists as COVID restrictions are lifted, and while some are cautious, operators elsewhere are preparing packages like hotpot buffets to capitalize on the expected surge in travel.
Chinese tourists will no longer have to quarantine upon returning home from Jan. 8, the government announced this week, a move that led to a surge in bookings in the world’s largest outbound travel market in 2019.
The once $255 billion a year global spending by Chinese tourists came to a virtual standstill during the pandemic, leaving a gaping hole in the Asian market, where countries from Thailand to Japan depended on China as the largest source of foreign visitors.
International flights to and from China are at just 8% of pre-pandemic levels, according to VariFlight data, but airlines are looking to increase capacity as authorities ease COVID-related restrictions on the number of flights.
“There’s little 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, it’s just a question now of how many and how quickly.”
Malaysia Airlines and Vietnamese low-cost carrier VietJet Aviation VJC.HM said they hope to bring China flights back to pre-pandemic levels by June 2023, while others like Singapore Airlines SIAL.SI and Australia’s Qantas Airways QAN.AX Declined to provide detailed objectives Situation developed.
Chinese airlines are expected to significantly increase capacity from late March, coinciding with the start of the summer scheduling season, Morningstar analyst Cheng Weng told customers in a note.
REBOUND “WITH REVENGE”
The prospect of well-funded Chinese flocking to high streets around the world boosted luxury stocks this week, as China accounts for 21% of the €350 billion ($371.91 billion) global luxury goods market.
With the Lunar New Year holiday – usually a peak travel season for Chinese tourists – starting on Jan. 21, some companies are already preparing for it.
Sofitel Sentosa in Singapore is creating Lunar New Year packages for Chinese visitors, including a hotpot buffet and romantic packages for couples, said Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of that hotel and the upcoming Raffles Sentosa, as the company hopes the trip will unfold recover will come “with a vengeance”.
In Japan, coach company Hato Bus says it will try Chinese-language tours next month, which it suspended during the pandemic, with a goal of fully resuming by spring, a spokesman said.
However, Japan is wary of Chinese tourism due to the rapid spread of the virus in China. It requires a negative COVID-19 test on arrival from Chinese visitors, and those who test positive must quarantine for seven days under the 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 considers a testing requirement.
However, Australia, Germany, Thailand and others said they would not impose additional rules on Chinese travel for the time being, and France took to social media platform Sina Weibo to emphasize that it welcomes Chinese friends “with open arms”.
In Vietnam, where tourist visas are not yet issued for Chinese people, Saigon Halong Hotel in Halong Bay expects Chinese arrivals from the second quarter of next year.
Any hopes of a massive rebound in Chinese travel to Australia during the Lunar New Year holiday are likely misplaced, said James Shen, general manager of Melbourne-based travel agency Odyssey Travel, citing sky-high airfares.
“There are still very few flights and they would book at very short notice,” he said. “I suspect any meaningful recovery will have to wait until the travel boom in June or July next year.” – Reuters