Skift Take

China's opening up, but if the airlines don’t step up their flight game, we might be looking at even crazier airfare hikes with all these eager travelers.

China has simplified entry rules for U.S. citizens visiting the country on tourist visas. Starting January 1, tourist visa applicants in the U.S. will no longer be required to submit proof of round-trip air tickets, hotel reservations, itinerary or invitation letter. 

The Chinese ambassador to the U.S. wrote on X: “More good news for travelers to China: starting from January 1, 2024, our Embassy and Consulates-General in the U.S. will simplify application documents required for tourist visa.” 

This is expected, “to further facilitate people-to-people exchanges between China and the U.S.,” according to the website for the Chinese embassy in Washington.

China’s Steps To Boost Tourism

China has announced various initiatives to boost its inbound tourism sector.

  • In November, it announced a temporary visa waiver for citizens from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Malaysia and Singapore.
  • The country has also broadened its visa-free transit policies to include 54 countries, with Norway as the latest addition. Foreign travelers transiting through China to visit a third country, can enjoy a six-day stay in specific Chinese cities without the need for a visa.

According to booking data from China-based DidaTravel, the visa-free policy led to a surge in hotel bookings. From December 1 to 7, hotel reservations from travelers in Spain heading to China doubled from week earlier. Reservations from travelers in Malaysia jumped 67%. Reservations from Italian travelers were up 50%.

Trip.com Group’s data also reveals a significant surge in flight searches for China among travelers from these countries.

Tourism Source Markets

Trip.com said that in 2023, it saw a four-digit growth in visitor numbers compared to 2022 — surpassing 60% of pre-pandemic levels.

The top source markets for tourism include South Korea, Japan, Singapore, U.S., Australia, Malaysia, Canada, Thailand, UK and Germany.

The preferred destinations for these visitors were Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, Zhuhai, Hangzhou, Foshan, Xiamen, Zhongshan, and Chengdu.

“In fact, 7 out of 10 hotel bookings made by overseas tourists have been for Shenzhen,” Trip.com Group noted.

The Bottleneck: Flight Capacity

However, international flight capacity and exorbitant airfares are bottlenecks holding back inbound tourism.

Seat capacity in December between China and U.S. at almost 90,000 is still around 22% of 2019 levels, according to the latest data from aviation analytics firm OAG.

OAG noted that while Korea remains the largest outbound market by seat capacity for China, it is still 34% below 2019 levels.

Japan and Thailand — the second- and fourth-largest outbound market by seat capacity — are also at 52% and 49% of December 2019 seat capacity.

Boon Sian Chai, managing director and vice president of international markets for Trip.com, said these issues are being addressed.

“Flight capacity keeps ramping up, and the entry process for tourists visiting China has also been simplified,” Chai said.

Speaking at the second Skift Global Forum East in Dubai last month, Chai acknowledged that destinations with simplified entry procedures hold a distinct advantage in outbound travel.

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Tags: american travelers, asia monthly, china, coronavirus recovery, flights resumption, oag, tourism, trip.com group, visa waiver, visas

Photo credit: Shanghai is one of the preferred destinations of international travelers during their visit to China. Wolfram K / Pexels.com">Pexels

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