China's outbound tourism expects revival after COVID response shift

Data from Group showed that the number of orders for outbound flight tickets soared 254 percent on the morning of December 27, compared with the same period a day earlier.

China's outbound tourism sector is expected to regain its vitality, with the country's newly adjusted COVID-19 response lifting restrictions on Chinese citizens' overseas trips and promoting cross-border personnel exchanges.

China will manage COVID-19 with measures against Class B infectious diseases, instead of Class A infectious diseases, according to a statement released by the National Health Commission on Monday.

The statement said outbound tourism for Chinese citizens will be resumed in an orderly manner.

Disease control measures targeting inbound travellers and imported cargo will also be lifted, it said.

Words expressing enthusiasm for travelling abroad quickly flooded China's social networks, as early birds flocked to the country's online travel platforms to search for ideal destinations and book flights.

The search volume for outbound flight tickets and overseas hotels reached a three-year high just half an hour after the release of the statement, data from online travel service provider Group showed.

Other Asian countries are among the first ones set to benefit from this wave of outbound travel.

Data from Group showed that the number of orders for outbound flight tickets soared 254 percent on the morning of December 27, compared with the same period a day earlier. Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Thailand were among Chinese tourists' most popular destinations.

Fang Zeqian, an analyst from Group, said the COVID-19 response change ensures a smoother policy environment for cross-border travel and will effectively stimulate people's willingness to travel.

"With the ice and snow finally melting, the spring of outbound travel has arrived," Fang said.

Feng Rao, head of a research institute under the Chinese travel service and social networking platform Mafengwo, said that three years' pent-up desire for travel abroad can finally be released thanks to this policy adjustment.

The upcoming Spring Festival holiday is estimated to become a key turning point for China's outbound travel industry, Feng said.

Given the significant number of potential Chinese tourists, the recovery of China's outbound travel is expected to play a key role in the rebound of both domestic and global tourism markets.

In 2019 alone, Chinese citizens made 155 million outbound trips, according to data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

China's travel agencies saw their operating revenue from outbound travel services amount to 214.56 billion yuan (US$30.8 billion) in 2019, accounting for 41.54 percent of the total tourism revenue of these agencies.

Despite having sound growth momentum on the horizon, time and effort will still be needed to achieve a full recovery of China's outbound tourism.

The prices of outbound flight tickets and overseas hotels are expected to fall back to pre-pandemic levels with the recovery of the supply side of tourism, but the price declines will take some time due to short-term constraints in the supply of facilities and labour, Fang said.

The supply of international flights will not see a significant increase in the short term due to existing flight scheduling and approval plans, said Guo Lechun, vice president of the big data research institute of online travel service provider, adding that it will also take time for the travel demand to recover.

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