By Chayut Setboonsarng, Xinghui Kok and Stella Qiu
BANGKOK/SINGAPORE/SYDNEY, December 29 (Reuters) – Asian countries are bracing for an influx of Chinese tourists as COVID restrictions are dismantled, and while some are wary, operators in others are preparing packages such as hotpot buffets to take advantage of the expected surge in travel.
Chinese tourists will no longer need to self-quarantine on their return from January 8, the government announced this week, a move that has spurred a increase in bookings of what was the world’s largest outbound travel market in 2019.
The $255 billion in global annual spending by Chinese tourists has reached a virtual stopover during the pandemic, leaving a gaping hole in the Asian market, where countries from Thailand to Japan depended on China as their main source of foreign visitors.
International flights to and from China are only 8% of pre-pandemic levels, VariFlight data showsbut carriers are looking to increase capacity as authorities ease COVID-imposed limits on the number of flights.
“There is no doubt that mainland Chinese are the spark plug for Thailand’s tourism recovery,” said Bill Barnett, managing director of hotel consultancy C9 Hotelworks. “It’s not a question of whether it will happen, it’s now just a question of how much and how quickly.”
Malaysia Airlines and Vietnamese low-cost airline VietJet Aviation VJC.HM said they hoped to bring flights in China back to pre-pandemic levels by June 2023, while others like Singapore Airlines SIAL.SI and the Australian Qantas Airways QAN.AX declined to provide detailed goals as the situation developed.
Chinese airlines are expected to significantly increase capacity from the end of March, coinciding with the start of the summer season, Morningstar analyst Cheng Weng told customers in a note.
REBOUND “WITH A VENGEANCE”
The prospect of cash-rich Chinese flocking to shopping streets around the world boosted luxury stocks this week, as China accounts for 21% of the 350 billion euro ($371.91 billion) global luxury goods market.
As the Lunar New Year holiday – usually a peak period for Chinese tourists – begins on January 21, some companies are already preparing.
Singapore’s Sofitel Sentosa is creating Lunar New Year packages for Chinese visitors, including a hotpot buffet and romance packages for couples, said Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of that hotel and upcoming Raffles Sentosa, as the company is betting that a rebound in travel will come “with a vengeance”.
In Japan, tourist bus company Hato Bus said next month it would try Chinese-language tours it had halted during the pandemic, aiming for a full resumption by spring, a source said. spokesperson.
Japan, however, is cautious about Chinese tourism due to the rapid spread of the virus in China. It requires a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival from Chinese visitors, and those who test positive must quarantine for seven days starting Dec. 30.
The United States has declared that it impose Mandatory COVID tests for 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 speaking to social media platform Sina Weibo to emphasize that she welcomes Chinese friends “with open arms.”
In Vietnam, where tourist visas for Chinese are not yet issued, the Saigon Halong Hotel in Halong Bay expects to receive Chinese arrivals from the second quarter of next year.
Any hopes of a massive rebound in Chinese travel to Australia over the Lunar New Year holiday are likely to be in vain, said James Shen, managing director of Melbourne-based travel agency Odyssey Travel, citing sky-high airfares.
“There are still very few flights and they would book at the very last minute,” he said. “I suspect any meaningful rebound will have to wait for the travel boom in June or July next year.”
($1 = 0.9411 euros)
FACTBOX-COVID rules for travelers from China rolled out worldwide
(Additional reporting by Isabel Kua in Singapore, Mariko Katsumara in Tokyo, Francesco Guarascio and Khanh Vu in Hanoi, Neil Jerome Morales in Manila, Mei Mei Chu in Kuala Lumpur; Writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Gerry Doyle)
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