China’s adjustment of cross-border travel rules to boost global tourism, economic growth
Published: Dec 28, 2022 10:06 PM
Passengers walk out of Haikou Meilan International Airport on December 9, 2022. Photo: VCG

Passengers walk out of Haikou Meilan International Airport on December 9, 2022. Photo: VCG

Many foreign tourism authorities and travel agencies are wasting no time in actively luring Chinese visitors, as they anxiously wait for a swift rebound in Chinese outbound tourism, after China recently announced the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on cross-border travel. 

The huge number of Chinese visitors and their massive spending power were a lifeline for the tourism industries of many countries around the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic seriously disrupted the sector, with some countries seeing "almost zero" Chinese tourist over the past three years. And for these countries, China's recent adjustments to its COVID response is a long-awaited piece of good news. 

Following the announcement of lifting various restrictions and requirements on cross-border travel, tourism authorities of some countries started posting welcome messages on Chinese social media platforms to extend a warm invitation to Chinese travelers.

"Three years! Magic Thailand has waited for you for three years!" the Tourism Authority of Thailand said on Weibo on Tuesday, along with nine pictures of the country's beautiful scenery. 

"Friends, the horn of a grand return for cross-border tourism in 2023 has sounded. In magic Thailand, be there or be square!" the post read.

Apart from Thailand, a number of foreign countries and cities, including 

France, Canada and Dubai, also posted similar messages on Weibo to express delight at China's reopening of the cross-border tourism market and welcome the inflow of Chinese tourists. 

At least a dozen tourism authorities of foreign countries posted similar posts on Weibo as of Wednesday, essentially turning the Chinese social media platform into a competition arena for creative tourism promotion.

"Chinese friends, France welcomes you with open arms," the French Embassy in China wrote in a post on Weibo in Chinese. 

"Kia Ora! Long time no see!" the tourism authority of New Zealand wrote, along with poetic promotions of what the country has to offer.

Both the governments and the tourism industries of these countries are expecting and preparing for a swift recovery of Chinese outbound tourism after a three-year halt. 

Wang He, CEO of Fly Elephant, which has branch offices in Thailand, Malaysia and Australia, said that there were barely any Chinese tourists in the past three years, aside from a few businesspeople or students.

"The whole industry has been very much looking forward to China's reopening of cross-border tourism. Multiple travel agencies have started to contact their suppliers and prepare products like hotel and air tickets," he told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Joanne Yan, managing director of Sydney-based travel agency Eversun Holiday, told the Global Times on Wednesday that Australia's reception of Chinese tourists has been "almost zero" in the past three years. Therefore, the reopening policy is particularly inspiring.

In a series of announcements over the past several days, Chinese authorities announced that various anti-COVID restrictions on international arrivals will be lifted on January 8, 2023, and the country will resume outbound travel for Chinese nationals in an orderly manner.

Experts and industry sources said that China's resumption of cross-border travel will make a huge contribution to the global tourism market as well as the global economy next year, as China accounts for a large share of many countries' tourism markets.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, Chinese tourists made a total of 155 million outbound trips, according to Xinhua. China was the largest outbound tourism market, with its outbound visitors spending $127.5 billion on travel in 2019, Reuters reported.

Thailand is one example. The country's finance minister said that Thailand's economy may accelerate next year and hit 3.8 percent growth, provided its tourism sector gets a boost from China's reopening plans, a report from Reuters noted.

"Thailand is one of the hottest outbound travel destinations for Chinese visitors, and Chinese tourists account for about 20 percent of Thailand's foreign tourists, so China's contribution to the local tourism industry is very big," said Wang.

Wang predicted that the peak of Chinese tourists' visits to Thailand should come around next year's Qingming Festival holidays or the 2023 May Day holidays.

A similar situation is expected in South Korea, where Chinese tourists are an important source of the country's foreign visitors.

"For China's neighboring countries and regions, Chinese tourists often play a decisive role in deciding the success or failure of local tourism sectors. Especially for tourism sites that have been designed more or less specifically for Chinese tourists like Jeju Island, the return of Chinese tourists is like sending a present of firewood in cold weather," Chen Jia, an independent research fellow on international strategy, told the Global Times.

According to Chen, the contribution of Chinese tourists to South Korea's economy hit 1.6 percent of its GDP before the pandemic, and a resumption of Chinese tourists in South Korea will drive up the country's economic growth.

"Actually, the return of Chinese tourists should mean that the global tourism industry will hopefully return to pre-pandemic levels soon. This is something the global tourism industry needs most urgently," Chen said.

Yan also noted that Chinese tourists make a great contribution to Australia's economy, as they account for about 15 percent of the country's foreign visitors. 

"Our company is preparing for the coming outbound travel peak along with Chinese travel agencies and airlines. We are also recruiting more employees," Yan said.