On 8 January, China finally abandoned its zero-Covid policy, after years of the strictest quarantine and travel restrictions in the world. Along with the reopening of borders for international travel and scrapping of quarantine requirements, the government is once again issuing passports for its own citizens, who are preparing to start travelling again.
1. World’s largest outbound tourism market
In 2019, before the pandemic, China was the world’s largest outbound tourism market, spending more than $280 billion abroad and investing more than $90 billion in luxury goods. Now that passport offices in China started issuing travel documents again, it’s only a matter of time until the figures start recovering.
The number of outbound trips made by Chinese citizens is expected to increase from 170 million in 2019 to 228 million in 2030, according to a study conducted by the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI). The 200 million milestone of annual cross-border movements from China is projected to be breached in 2028, 14 years after the 100 million mark in 2014, says the institute.
Although some countries have taken preventive measures ahead of an incoming wave of tourists coming from China, fearing the spread of Covid-19, they are not expected to have a long-standing effect. With the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) repeatedly saying that testing requirements are not the solution, the measures are not likely to stand for long.
2. Chinese are ready to travel
After three years of strict no travel policies, the Chinese people are ready to travel again. This was proved by the surge in traffic on travel platforms as soon as the government announced the end of the zero-Covid era. Travel platform Ctrip reported that, within 30 minutes of the announcement, searches for overseas destinations increased by 10 times. On Chinese travel agency Qunar’s website, searches for international flights increased by 7 times in the first 15 minutes of the news.
Outbound trips beyond Greater China are affordable for about 10% of the Chinese population, and leisure trips to Europe for about 7%, or about 100 million people, according to COTRI. Moreover, research conducted by McKinsey shows that the pandemic has given people the opportunity to save more, allowing them to spend on travelling now that the option is available again.
3. Returning to Europe
While, at the beginning, people are likely to choose international destinations closer to home, with Japan, Thailand and South Korea being the most searched for countries at the moment, Europe is also preparing to welcome back Chinese tourists. On 17 January, China’s Ambassador to the EU, Fu Cong, met with the European Travel Commission (ETC), representing European tourism boards, and stakeholders of the tourism industry to discuss the reopening of Chinese travel and recovery of China-Europe tourism.
The return of Chinese tourists will vigorously promote the overall recovery and development of the European tourism industry.Fu Cong, Ambassador of China to the European Union
“Some EU member states have expressed their concerns and introduced travel restrictions on travellers from China. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also said earlier that the introduction of mandatory Covid screenings of travellers from China are unjustified, given the fact that the variants circulating in China are already circulating in the EU and in view of the higher population immunity in Europe. Therefore, it is hoped that the Covid response measures of European countries need to be science-based and proportionate and should not affect normal travel and people-to-people exchange and cooperation”, Ambassador Cong previously told Travel Tomorrow.
The first people to return to Europe will be those with non-leisure reasons for travelling, such as business, family reunions, education and health. Among the leisure travellers, the majority have stated in surveys that they also wait for the opportunity to travel abroad within one year after the reopening, being a bit more cautious of the risk of having to quarantine again on arrival. Moreover, bottlenecks at passport offices and visa issuing foreign consulates are also expected to cause some delay.
According to the ETC, continuous increase in arrivals from China can be expected in Europe after Easter, especially in the latter half of Q2 2023. The season will be prolonged into Q4 as the more cautious observers will decide to travel again after it becomes clear that Europe is not a dangerous destination, also enjoying the lower prices for transportation and accommodation which can be expected towards the end of the year. “If more special interest offers are developed by European service providers, more opportunities for a decrease in the amplitude of seasonality can be created”, ETC says.
After being in lockdown for three years, Chinese tourists are expected be more interested in new destinations, rather than the most popular ones, which will offer an opportunity for Europe to increase its overall market share and for less visited cities and regions within larger countries and less conventional destinations for Chinese travellers (for example, Ireland or Portugal) to be put on the map.