BANGKOK/SINGAPORE/SYDNEY: Asian countries are bracing for an influx of Chinese tourists as COVID-19 restrictions are dismantled, and while some are wary, operators in others are preparing packages such as hotpot buffets to cash in on the expected spike in travel.
Chinese tourists will no longer need to quarantine on return home starting Jan 8, the government announced this week, a move that spurred a surge in bookings from what was the world’s largest outbound travel market in 2019.
The once US$255 billion a year in global spending by Chinese tourists ground to a virtual halt during the pandemic, leaving a gaping hole in the Asian market, where countries from Thailand to Japan had depended on China as the largest source of foreign visitors.
International flights to and from China are at just 8 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, VariFlight data shows, but carriers are looking to ramp up capacity as authorities ease COVID-driven limits on the number of flights.
“There is little doubt 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 now just a matter of how many and how fast.”
Malaysia Airlines and Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet Aviation said they hope to restore China flights 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 increases to capacity from the end of March, coinciding with the start of the summer scheduling season, Morningstar analyst Cheng Weng told clients in a note.