China resumes group tours to another 78 countries, regions
Move welcomed by Japan, South Korea, Australia
Published: Aug 10, 2023 12:56 PM


China on Thursday announced a third round of resumption of outbound group tour services to 78 countries and regions, including the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and most European countries, expanding the scope from 60 to 138 countries and regions.  

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism made the announcement with immediate effect, specifying that outbound group tour services to these countries will be resumed at all national travel agencies and online travel companies. 

The 78 countries and regions include 12 in Asia, 27 in Europe, 18 in Africa and others in North America, South America and Oceania, according to the notice.

"Since the trial resumption of outbound group tours for Chinese citizens, the overall operation of outbound tourism market has remained stable and orderly, which has played a positive role in promoting tourism exchanges and cooperation," the ministry said. 

Commenting on the decision, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that China has been gradually resuming outbound group tour services since February. As international passenger flights recover steadily and the willingness of Chinese people to travel abroad grows, China has decided to further expand the scope of group tours starting from Thursday.

The move has been welcomed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as well as tourism ministers in South Korea and Australia, who said it would boost their economies, Reuters reported.

"This is another positive step toward the stabilization of our relationship with China," said Australian Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell.

Kishida told reporters on Thursday that the government hopes inbound travel from China will recover further as a result of the tours being resumed.

China previously resumed group tours to 60 countries and regions over two stages earlier this year, including groups to Russia, France, Spain, Italy and other European countries, as well as countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. 

Within half an hour of the announcement, domestic travel platforms had launched a number of products for the newly added destinations, including 12-day tour packages to Austria and the Czech Republic, as well as cruise trips to Japan. 

According to data released by online travel platforms later on Thursday, the average increase in popularity for the specified overseas destinations after the announcement exceeded 150 percent, with Japan taking the lead with an astonishing 350 percent surge in online searches.

One of China's largest online travel agencies, Ctrip, told the Global Times that the instantaneous search growth for outbound travel products surged 20 fold after the notice, with inquiries exceeding more than 10 times the usual volume for this summer season. 

Among them, inquiries for the Chinese National Day holiday starting on October 1 garnered the most attention, with group tour packages to countries like Japan, Australia and New Zealand experiencing a significant spike in popularity.

Chinese travelers' enthusiasm for outbound trips, pent up over three years, has been unleashed with a surge continuing from the beginning of the year until now, especially as students entered summer vacation.

A report released by the China Tourism Academy recently showed that the first half of 2023 saw a total of 40.37 million Chinese mainland visitors received by overseas travel destinations. Short-distance travel has led the recovery, with over 90 percent rushing in countries and regions of Asia.

While Southeast Asia remains the most popular destination for Chinese travelers with its relatively short distance and cheap prices, Iran, the Caucasus region, Central Asia, the Balkans and New Zealand have become the "dark horses" in this year's summer outbound tourism market.

Outbound travel supply side is also experiencing a steady recovery. Qunar, another prominent online travel agency, told the Global Times that among the destinations listed in the third group of outbound group tours, there are already direct flights available. 

Among the third group of countries, Japan and South Korea are currently the favorite choices for Chinese travelers to spend their summer, with booking volumes nearly 10 times higher compared to the beginning of the year, and flight prices decreasing by around 40 percent. 

However, the difficulty in getting visas for these countries is holding back Chinese tourists with many commenting on it being difficult to book a time slot or a visa appointment. 

The Global Times learned last month from several travel agencies across the country that appointments to apply for Schengen and US visa in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai are already fully booked until the end of this year, and the high likelihood of being rejected is scaring away large numbers of people.

A research institute for the tourism industry predicted that based on data from various platforms, the most anticipated time for outbound group tours is during the National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holidays. 

However, factors such as visa restrictions, limited international flight capacity and high prices will continue to make visa-free, visa-on-arrival, and destinations with convenient visa processes the mainstream choices for outbound travel during the upcoming "golden weeks." In the second half of the year, as travel companies continue to enrich their offerings for outbound group tours and independent travel products, more people will be able to enjoy more diverse and cost-effective outbound travel options, which will further unleash the potential of tourism consumption.