Eased measures promise to bring numbers back to 2019 levels
The newly opened King Noodle Bar, which expects more tourists on Thursday, is located in the Jungfrau ski region of Switzerland. (LIAN YI / XINHUA)
European destinations and tourism experts have hailed China's move to relax the country's COVID-19 control measures on international arrivals and say the new measures will be of great significance to the recovery of international tourism.
At the end of last month the Chinese government announced that it would remove certain COVID-19 restrictions on international passenger flights from Jan 8, paving the way for many Chinese to plan overseas trips this year.
In a quick response to the announcement, embassies and tourism boards worldwide have posted messages on China's social media platform Weibo welcoming Chinese tourists again after a long hiatus.
"I think this is a very natural reaction," said Emanuel Lehner-Telic, head of markets Asia-Pacific at the Austrian National Tourist Office. "If you have not seen someone for a long while and missed them, you want to welcome them back.
"China was one of the largest tourism outbound markets until the end of 2019. A comeback of such a big player has of course an impact on the global tourism industry."
The tourism industry sees the announcement as a positive signal, he said, and it is a message the industry has awaited for almost three years.
"Many countries, especially in Asia, had a huge Chinese share in their number of guests. Their tourism industry is very much looking forward to the re-arrival of Chinese guests. We think there will certainly be a boost (for outbound Chinese travel this year). It will be interesting to see how strong the boost will be."
David Boyce, head of Asia, Middle East and Emerging Markets at Tourism Ireland, said: "This is probably one of the best and the most exciting pieces of news we have heard for a long time. … I know our industry, including hotels and attractions, just cannot wait to have Chinese people back."
Chinese outbound tourism was stalled over the past three years, but Boyce said: "When things start to build up it will be floodgates opening."
In two years Ireland will be welcoming double the number of Chinese visitors the country received in 2019, he said.
Daniela Chiani, Greater China director at Switzerland Tourism, said: "The latest measures issued by the Chinese government optimizing the COVID-19 prevention policy are inspiring. China has paved the way for a full recovery of the inbound and outbound tourism markets by adjusting its measures of epidemic prevention and control, in line with public expectations."
The number of overnight stays in Switzerland by Chinese guests in 2019 reached 1.8 million, the country's national tourism agency said.
"China is an important foreign source market for the Swiss tourism industry," Chiani said.
Chinese tourists made about 170 million international trips in 2019, the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute says. They were not only the biggest source market, but also the biggest spenders in international tourism.
Wolfgang Arlt, the institute's director, said: "The Chinese had three years to remember their own trips, and read and see videos about destinations on social media and other sources. Many Chinese will have developed plans to do specific things during their next trip and go to new destinations, offering good opportunities for destinations off the beaten track, if they prepare well for the market."
He forecast that the number of Chinese trips abroad this year will reach about two-thirds of what they were in 2019, possibly a bit less for Europe, and by next year, if no new problems arise, the 2019 level should be reached again.
Oliver Sedlinger, an international tourism consultant in Beijing for Sedlinger and Associates, said: "There definitely is a huge pent-up demand for outbound travel in China, and I think that during 2023 this demand will become increasingly visible. Once the final hurdles and bottlenecks are overcome, e.g.regulations, visa handling and flight capacity, I expect a very strong rebound."