China's resumption of outbound group tours is gaining pace, as bookings for overseas trips surge
Bookings for destinations like Southeast Asia, New Zealand keep rising
Published: Feb 07, 2023 08:51 PM
Chinese tourists arrive at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia on January 22, 2023. Photo: VCG

Chinese tourists arrive at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia on January 22, 2023. Photo: VCG

After China resumed group tour services to 20 countries and regions in a pilot program, more Chinese tour groups departed on Tuesday for destinations in Southeast Asia and beyond, and bookings for trips to other places like New Zealand are surging, said Chinese travel agencies. 

The resumption of outbound travel has helped resurrect local tourist industries in many countries, where supporting services are in great demand, industry insiders said. The resumption will accelerate in the coming months, with an initial travel peak expected in the summer. 

On Monday, the first day of the resumed outbound group tours, many Chinese tour groups arrived in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday, noting the countries warmly welcomed Chinese tourists and urging relevant countries to provide a safe, convenient environment for Chinese tourists. 

"After three years, China's outbound group tours have pressed the 'restart button,' which will revive the global travel market and inject impetus into the world economy," Mao said.

On Tuesday, more groups departed for countries such as Thailand and Singapore. Southeast Asian countries were the top destinations for the first batch of Chinese tour groups, while other countries are expected to see Chinese tour groups later.

Before the end of February, Chinese tour groups will arrive in countries such as Kenya, Russia, Fiji and New Zealand, in addition to Southeast Asia, analysts say. More Chinese tour groups will arrive in European countries in March, according to travel companies. 

New Zealand has become very popular among Chinese tourists. Tickets for a group tour for New Zealand, which will depart on March 18 and cost 27,999 yuan ($4,124), sold out immediately, Chinese online travel agency told the Global Times.   

As of Monday, nearly 1,2000 outbound group tour products had been launched on covering 16 countries including Thailand, the Maldives, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Kenya and Fiji, as well as China's Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, the company said. 

Hungary and other European destinations are also popular among Chinese travelers. A manager at a major tour agency based in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province surnamed Mao said that there is a long waiting list for one of the company's group tours to Hungary and several other Eastern European countries. "The earliest group tour that can be booked will be in March, and the price is about 15,000 yuan per person," Mao told the Global Times. 

Local tourism industries in countries included in China's pilot program are preparing to receive more Chinese tourists soon. Lami, a travel agent in Bali, Indonesia, told the Global Times that inquiries about trips in May are rising and the company is preparing in terms of local transportation and lodging. 

While the resumption of outbound group tours is proceeding rapidly, there remain some hurdles, including a limited number of international flights or expensive fares due to the rising market demand, analysts noted.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China lifted certain COVID-19 restrictions on international passenger flights from January 8, in a bid to increase international flights. 

Chinese airlines are also moving to resume routes. For example, China Southern Airlines said on Monday that it will continue to increase its international capacity, and it will resume and open 48 round-trip routes to 12 foreign countries.

The resumption of Chinese outbound tourism has boosted growth prospects in the countries included in the pilot program, as Chinese tourists provide the majority of their international visitors and tourism revenue. 

Malaysia for example could see a 1 percentage point boost in GDP growth from the effect of stronger tourism activity due to the resumption of China's outbound travel, according to UOB Global Economics & Market Research.

Countries that have not been included in the pilot programs are actively preparing. Japan, which initially took anti-epidemic measures targeting arrivals from China, was not included in the pilot program. 

The head of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)'s office in Shanghai expressed regret that Japan was not included, but the JNTO held an event in Beijing to attract Chinese tourists. 

A Chinese manager at a travel agency in Tokyo surnamed Shang said that the Japanese industry is paying close attention to potential changes in policies. 

"Although Japan is not in the pilot program for outbound group tours this time, as long as China allows outbound tours, we are still confident and hopeful," Shang told the Global Times on Tuesday.