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Prepare now or get left out when the Chinese outbound tourist wave returns in 2023, says China Outbound Tourism Research Institute. Considering the country's staunch zero-Covid policy, the timeline seems a little too good to be true.

A “strong wave” in Chinese outbound travel will begin again in 2023 and return to 2019 numbers by 2024, according to new projections from an institute studying those travelers.

Urging destinations keen to secure the first-mover advantage, the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute wants destinations to prepare for the return of Chinese outbound tourists with better products and more niche markets.

“The preparation, the acquisition of knowledge and the adaptation of services needs to be done now, before the wave arrives,” said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, the institute’s CEO.

Considering China is the only country following a dynamic zero-Covid approach, including lockdowns, with growing impact on its economic development and supply chains, the timeline does seem a little too ambitious.

However, almost all surveys reveal that Chinese are eager to travel abroad, Arlt said, while speaking at Guangzhou International Travel Fair’s China Outbound Tourism Conference.

Even as quarantine on return, safety and destination friendliness are top concerns for outbound travel, only 10 percent Chinese travelers said they wouldn’t consider outbound travel, according to a Dragon Trail survey.

And while a lot of trips would be to destinations within the region, pent-up demand and unspent travel money would also see a lot of long-haul travel from 2023 onwards, Arlt noted.

“Those would essentially be non-leisure travel, like grandparents coming to see newborns living in Europe during the pandemic or the Chinese investor who wants to employ a new general manager,” he said.

What Will The Post-Covid Chinese Tourist Look Like?

Besides business travellers and high net worth individuals, students would be the first to travel internationally. “The first Chinese outbound travellers will be motivated by business, health, family, and education,” Arlt said.

The new wave of Chinese outbound tourists will arrive eager to travel abroad again. With three years of information collected from internet and social media sources, exchanging information about lesser-known destinations these tourists would want better and more bespoken service, Arlt noted.

Moving away from package tours, the pandemic has also accelerated an increasing interest in independent travel, he noted.

“Exclusivity luxury hotels, gourmet private groups, adventure – diving, paragliding and nature (outdoor hiking and diving) will find interest with different Chinese market segments. Meaningful tourism would also play a greater role.”

Where Did the Chinese Tourist Travel to Before and During Covid?

Backed by strong growth in connectivity and easing of visa regulations, Chinese outbound tourism increased dramatically from 70 million border crossings in 2011 to 170 million in 2019.

This number then went down to 18 million in 2020 and further crashed to 8.5 million in 2021.

Chinese tourists from 2011-2019 mainly visited Asian destinations with France and the U.S. being the only two non-Asian destinations featuring in the top 10 places visited by Chinese tourists throughout the period, with Italy occasionally making an appearance.

As a result, Asian destinations will be severely affected by the absence of Chinese visitors.

Since the closing of Chinese borders in Jan 2020 outbound leisure tourism practically did not happen. In the first quarter of 2022, about 1.9 million Chinese crossed the border to travel abroad, 1.7 million to Macau, the only destination reachable without the need to go into quarantine on return.

Domestic trips stayed around 70 percent during the first two months of 2022 to drop to 20 percent in April.

Trips taken by airplane during the May holidays went down by 94 percent in May 2022, compared to May 2021.

The future travel prospects still seem dim as bookings for summer travel (July-August) have gone down by 71 percent this year compared to last year.


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Tags: asia monthly, china outbound, china travel, coronavirus recovery, lockdowns, long haul travel, quarantine

Photo credit: Chinese tourists at the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, Japan. shankar s. / Wikimedia Commons

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