Asia tourism reopens, but travel restrictions keep spending Chinese at home

Asia’s gradual easing of international travel restrictions is proving a welcome relief for the region’s hard-hit tour operators who are slowly opening up to visitors from around the world – with one exception.

China, previously the world’s largest outbound tourism market, maintains international air capacity at just 2% of pre-pandemic levels and has yet to ease strict travel restrictions as it sticks to the zero tolerance for Covid-19.

This has left a $ 255 billion annual spending hole in the global tourism market that operators like Laguna Phuket in Thailand must try to fill.

Managing Director Ravi Chandran said the five Laguna Phuket resorts have shifted their marketing focus to Europe, the United States and the United Arab Emirates to make up for the loss of Chinese visitors, who accounted for 25-30% of its activity before Covid-19. .

“Until today, we haven’t done any significant marketing or promotion in China… because we don’t feel anything coming,” Mr. Chandran said.

The pandemic has cost Thailand around $ 50 billion in tourism revenue per year and the Chinese were spending above average according to data from the Tourism Ministry.

Thailand hopes to receive 180,000 foreign tourists this year, a fraction of the roughly 40 million it received in 2019, as it opened places beyond Phuket to tourists on Monday.

Many experts expect China to maintain strict measures, such as a three-week quarantine for those returning home, until at least the second quarter of next year, then may not open. -be only gradually country by country.

“Destinations need to identify new source markets and learn to market and respond to different cultures,” said Liz Ortiguera, chief executive of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, citing the Maldives as a rare example of a successful pivot during the pandemic.

The Indian Ocean Island Chain has gained wide recognition at trade shows and attracted more Russian and Indian visitors to its luxury resorts and sparkling waters.

China had been its biggest source of tourists before the pandemic, but the Maldives saw the total number of arrivals in the first nine months of 2021 drop 12% from the same period in 2019.

Travel data company ForwardKeys estimates it will take until 2025 for Chinese overseas travel to return to pre-pandemic levels. It will also force airlines to re-evaluate their routes given that its data shows that 38% of Chinese tourists took foreign carriers in 2019.

Even as Singapore, Thailand and Bali in Indonesia are gradually opening up to international travelers, Thai Airways and Garuda Indonesia are drastically reducing their fleets as part of restructuring plans in the absence of Chinese tourists.

When China opens its borders, industry surveys show reluctance by many to travel abroad due to fears of Covid-19.

There has also been a boom in national holidays on Hainan Island, which now offers duty-free shopping, threatening future visits to nearby destinations such as Hong Kong and South Korea.

“Honestly, I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for international travel,” said Kat Qi, 29, a researcher in Beijing who visited Southeast Asia and Britain before the pandemic. “A lot of the places I wanted to visit are in less developed countries with beautiful natural landscapes and they tend to be the least vaccinated countries.”

His preference for natural landscapes is also an emerging trend in surveys of Chinese travelers. Many are focusing on the outdoors at a time when domestic camping vacations have become popular and tour operators will need to adapt accordingly, experts say.

The market will have changed so the Chinese traveling in 2022 will be different from the Chinese traveling in 2019. I think the trends will move away from this shopping and rush

Wolfgang Georg Arlt, Managing Director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute

“The market will have changed, so Chinese traveling in 2022 will be different from Chinese traveling in 2019,” said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director general of the outgoing China Tourism Research Institute. “I think the trends are going to move away from this shopping and rush.”

Large-group travel that has also fallen out of favor on domestic travel could also be a thing of the past, to be replaced by independent travel and smaller personalized tours with family and friends, said Sienna Parulis-Cook, director of the marketing and communications to marketing. Dragon Trail International company.

“You might have organized trips and everything, but it would be with a small group of people you know, rather than 50 strangers on a tour bus,” she said.

Updated: November 5, 2021, 10:53 am

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