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Chinese Tourists Are Again Embracing International Travel

Luxury shoppers in China outside a Prada store.
The return of China’s travellers has long been awaited in the travel industry. (Shutterstock)

More than a year since China reopened its borders, some 63 percent of its residents say they’re ready to return to exploring the world, according to a survey published on Wednesday, which Bloomberg previewed. They plan to venture further afield than previously, with just 10 percent spurning international travel altogether — a significant shift from a year ago, when more than half of China’s consumers said they had no plans to go abroad and 31 percent said they weren’t even interested.

The return of China’s travellers has long been awaited in the travel industry, which is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels this year by contributing $11.1 trillion to the global economy. The March 6–19 survey by marketing solutions firm Dragon Trail International queried 1,015 mainland Chinese leisure travellers located in 127 places, including first-, second- and third-tier cities.

“We are now past the initial reopening and well into recovery,” says Sienna Parulis-Cook, Dragon Trail’s director of marketing and communications, “and we can see that travellers are much less hesitant about venturing outbound than they were a year ago.”

As of early April, outbound trip bookings for China’s weeklong May holiday lagged 2019 levels by only 13 percent, according to Dragon Trail, and included such places as Egypt and United Arab Emirates. The China Tourism Academy predicted that global Chinese tourist numbers will reach 130 million in 2024 — 84 percent of levels before the pandemic struck. In 2019, some 155 million outbound Chinese travellers spent $253 billion abroad.

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Destinations that have either waived the visa process for Chinese citizens or are offering electronic visas on arrival include Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Middle East and North Africa. The United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan are predicted to lead the recovery in Chinese tourism, says Alina Xiang, who specialises in China as president and chief executive officer of East West Marketing.

Australia, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, Italy, New Zealand, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt are among the destinations whose flight capacities with China surpass levels before the pandemic, according to data from the Civil Aviation Administration of China that was provided by East West Marketing.

Dragon Trail’s survey shows that of 181 respondents who say they’ve already made overseas travel plans, 94 percent have booked trips to more than one destination. Some 16 percent said they would head to Europe.

Shopping is on the agenda for many. Nearly one-fourth said they will budget from $5,000 to $10,000 for shopping per trip, with 16 percent saying they would spend more. “It’s a really an important part of the Chinese outbound travel experience,” says Parulis-Cook. Retailers have suffered without such high-spending Chinese tourists.

In the first quarter, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE reported, “Chinese demand for fashion and leather goods — at home and abroad — rose almost 10 percent,” a bright spot in an otherwise-underwhelming performance.

The US travel industry is in for a longer wait than other major tourist destinations when it comes to reaping rewards from Chinese travel. Amid delays in visa issuance, first-quarter flights between the US and China remained 78.8 percent below those in the same period in 2019, according to data provided by aviation analytics firm Cirium. This contrasts with a near rebound for flights between the US and the rest of Asia, just 4 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Still, Chinese travellers’ poor perception of the US has changed significantly since the pandemic. In 2021, 87 percent said they considered the US an unsafe tourist destination. In March, only 36% voiced that perception.

By Lebawit Lily Girma

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Learn more:

Why Fewer Chinese Are Shopping in Europe’s Fashion Hubs

Post-Covid spend by US tourists in Europe has surged past 2019 levels. Chinese travellers, by contrast, have largely favoured domestic and regional destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

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