Thailand remains favourite destination for visitors from China
HONG KONG: More Chinese travellers are expected to head overseas during the Lunar New Year next month but the exodus will still be below pre-pandemic levels amid a weaker economic outlook and changing consumer preferences, analysts said.
Official figures released so far point to significant growth in passenger traffic during this year’s chun yun, the 40-day festive travel period when millions of Chinese return home or go overseas to celebrate the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.
On Friday, the first day of the travel season, 189 million passenger trips were made, up 19.7% over the same period last year, state news agency Xinhua reported, citing figures from various government departments including the ministries of transport and public security, as well as China State Railway Group.
The desire to leave the house was reflected in a forecast compiled by Chinese tech company Baidu, which said “travelling to celebrate the Spring Festival” may have become the “new” trend, driven by family tours as well as sightseeing in other provinces.
“Among the popular destination cities for air travel, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou rank in the top four, and Harbin surpasses traditional popular tourist cities such as Hangzhou, Kunming, Haikou, and Sanya to rank sixth [after Chengdu],” the Baidu report said.
Demand for international travel in China is also expected to rise following a flurry of visa-free agreements with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore as well as France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.
Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand remain a favourite destination for Chinese tourists preferring warmer climates, the Baidu report said.
Chinese travellers to Thailand will be able to enter the country without a visa from March 1, following the signing of a mutual agreement on Sunday.
Visa-free agreements and reasonably priced airfares have increased the appeal – particularly among younger Chinese – of long-distance destinations such as Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and other African countries, according to the Baidu report.
This year’s Spring Festival is the second since China abandoned its tough Covid-19 restrictions in late 2022, but outbound flight capacity is likely to be 30% below 2019 levels in the first quarter of this year, according to OAG, a Britain-based provider of global travel data.
OAG chief analyst John Grant said this was largely because of the patchy recovery of flights between Northeast Asia, Europe and Southeast Asia.
“Ultimately, it’s about the economy. If the economy isn’t right, people aren’t in a position where they can travel, it doesn’t matter if you are in China or you are in the US,” Grant said on Wednesday.
Bank of America Securities said in a report on Tuesday that younger millennials and Gen Z had been the biggest drivers of the tourism rebound, making up two-thirds of total travellers during the New Year holidays.
The report said younger travellers were more interested in local experiences and outdoor activities and were more influenced by social media compared to their parents.
“In our view, both domestic and international travel will continue to rebound further this year and will remain a bright spot for the economy,” it said.
“For local governments, domestic or international, potential tactics could include promotion of unique local culture via social media, organisation of concerts and festivals, and improving accessibility for travellers could all be effective.”