© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – Tourists can enjoy a Phuket beach without being quarantined. Foreigners who have been fully vaccinated for the coronavirus (COVID-19) are allowed to travel to the island in Phuket, Thailand on September 19, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/Fi
By Jamie Freed
(Reuters.) Asia’s gradual easing international travel restrictions has been a welcomed relief to the region’s struggling tourism operators. They are slowly opening their doors to foreign visitors from around the globe – except for one major exception.
China, previously the world’s largest outbound tourism market, is keeping international air capacity at just 2% https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/airlines-cut-intl-passenger-flights-china-new-season-2021-10-29 of pre-pandemic levels and has yet to relax tight travel restrictions as it sticks to zero tolerance for COVID-19.
This has created a gap of $255 billion annually in the global tourist market that operators like Thailand’s Laguna Phuket need to plug.
Ravi Chandran, Laguna Phuket’s managing director, says that the five resorts in the area have switched their marketing to Europe, America, and the United Arab Emirates as a way to compensate for lost Chinese tourists, which accounted for 25-30% of the pre-COVID revenue.
Chandran stated that “up to now, we haven’t done significant marketing and promotion in China…because we don’t believe anything is coming our way.” Based on data from Thailand’s tourism ministry, the Pandemic cost Thailand $50 billion per year in tourist revenue. The Chinese are also higher spenders than Thailand. Thailand hopes to receive 180,000 foreign tourists this year, a fraction of around 40 million it received in 2019, as it opened places beyond Phuket to tourists on Monday https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/bangkok-welcomes-first-tourists-quarantine-free-holiday-2021-11-01.
Experts expect China will continue to maintain such strict measures, such as a 3-week quarantine on returnees until the first quarter next year. Then it may open slowly country by country.
Pacific Asia Travel Association Chief Executive Liz Ortiguera, who cited Maldives as an example of a pivotal moment during the pandemic, stated: “Destinations must find new source markets.
Indian Ocean’s string of islands was heavily promoted at trade shows, and more Indian tourists visited its luxurious resorts.
China used to be the country’s largest tourist source before the epidemic, however the Maldives had an overall drop of 12% in arrivals over the nine-month period 2021 compared to 2019.
CHINA TOURISM EVOLVES
ForwardKeys, a travel data company estimates that it could take up to 2025 before Chinese outbound travel returns to pre-pandemic levels. Airlines will have to review their routes, as ForwardKeys’ data indicates that 38% Chinese tourists traveled on foreign airlines in 2019. In spite of the fact that Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia’s Bali and Indonesia gradually become more accessible to foreign tourists, Thai Airways Indonesia and Garuda Indonesia have been drastically reducing their fleets due to restructuring plans.
Many people fear COVID-19 and are reluctant to travel to China’s borders when China is open. Industry surveys have shown this.
The island of Hainan Island has seen a surge in domestic tourism. This Island now allows for duty-free shopping, as well as future travel to other nearby locations like Hong Kong or South Korea.
Kat Qi (29), a Beijing researcher who had traveled to Britain and Southeast Asia before the pandemic, stated that “I don’t have much interest in international travel.” Many of the places I want to see are located in countries that have less developed infrastructures and beautiful natural surroundings. They also tend to be least vaccined.
In surveys among Chinese travelers, she also prefers to see natural surroundings. Experts state that tourists are increasingly focusing their attention on the outdoors, even though domestic camping vacations have been very popular. This will require tourism operators to be more flexible.
Wolfgang Georg Arlt CEO, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute said that the market would have changed and the Chinese travellers in 2022 will look different than the Chinese traveling in 2019. I think that the trend will change from shopping and hurrying around.
Individual travel with large groups that are not popular on domestic trips may also go out of fashion. This could be replaced by smaller, customised tours and independent travel, according to Siena ParulisCook, the director of marketing at Dragon Tail International.
She said, “You could have organized travel and all the rest but it would be with only a few people you know rather than 50 strangers in a bus tour bus.”