Outbound Chinese tourists travel sees huge drop in post pandemic

Friday, March 11, 2022


 After two long years of pause due to COVID-19 pandemic, Europe are again welcoming tourists, with one big difference: Chinese travelers, who are some of the biggest spenders before the pandemic, are nowhere to be seen.

This is just same in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia, where tourism-dependent economies are throwing open their doors, but the white-sand beaches of the Philippines and night markets of northern Thailand are all but deserted.

The borders in China remain effectively sealed as the country continues to pursue a zero-tolerance approach to a virus that other parts of the world have accepted as endemic.

For the country’s 1.4 billion people, international travel is basically off the table with weeks-long hotel quarantines on return and flight options severely limited.

The fear of COVID, which is stamped out aggressively when it flares in China, is also a factor.

For the world’s tourist hotspots, that’s a problem. Chinese travellers spent $US277 billion ($378 billion) overseas in 2018 and another $US255 billion in 2019, accounting for almost 20 per cent of all international tourism spending, data from the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation show.

As the COVID-19 virus emerged in 2020 — with the first cases in the central Chinese city of Wuhan — their expenditure slumped to $US130.5 billion, most of which would have come in the months before March, when much of the world went into lockdown. The revenue is now a fraction of that. UNWTO reported a 61 per cent drop in spending by Chinese tourists from 2019 levels in the nine months through September last year.

As places like Australia, which just reopened to international tourists, and Singapore get on with living with COVID-19, accepting that high vaccination rates provide adequate protection, China and Hong Kong are holding fast. While there are signs Beijing is at least considering its exit strategy from COVID Zero, border curbs and other restrictions are unlikely to be eased meaningfully before 2023, given the need for stability in a politically important year for President Xi Jinping.

Nowhere is the impact as visible as in Hong Kong, itself hewing to the mainland’s isolationist approach even at the risk of losing its status as a global business hub. Some 51 million tourists, or more than three-quarters of total visitors to the city, came from China in 2018, data from UNWTO and the Hong Kong Tourism Board show.

Globally, Hong Kong was the top-class destination for Chinese tourists in 2018, playing host to 33 per cent of the almost 145 million Chinese who travelled overseas that year. They poured about $US27 billion into the economy, according to the city’s statistics department. Macau, known for its casinos, wasn’t far behind, receiving 25.3 million, or more than 17 per cent of all China’s outbound tourists. Thailand was the third-most popular destination in 2018, the year prior to the pandemic with the most complete data available. Some 16.9 million Chinese travelled to the Southeast Asian nation, spending around $US16.1 billion.

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