South Korea

China eases ban on citizens traveling abroad amid outbreak

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Reuters

(CNN) — China has lifted restrictions on group travel to more countries during the outbreak, including major markets such as the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia, which may benefit tourism in these countries.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced the decision on Thursday, effective immediately.

Before the outbreak, mainland Chinese tourists spent more outbound than tourists from any other country, totaling $255 billion in 2019, with group tours accounting for an estimated 60 percent of that.

Since the pandemic, their absence has left many businesses around the world that rely on tourism in financial trouble.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo called the move a “major victory” for U.S. tourism and said it was the result of “months of hard work” between the U.S. Commerce Department and China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Germany and the U.K. are also among the countries to lift restrictions, but Canada, which has had particularly tense political relations with China recently, has not reinstated.

This is China’s third list of approved countries. The first batch was approved in January and includes 20 countries including Thailand, Russia, Cuba and Argentina. The second batch in March included 40 countries, including Nepal, France, Portugal and Brazil.

China has never explained how it staggered approvals, but analysts point to countries that take time to get approvals with greater political and/or trade tensions with the world’s second-largest economy.

The move was also welcomed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the tourism ministers of South Korea and Australia, who said it would boost their economies.

“This is another positive step towards stabilizing our relationship with China,” said Australian Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell.

It remains to be seen just how much Chinese outbound tourism will rebound for the latest batch of countries. Expectations of a sharp pick-up in demand after borders reopen have largely failed to materialize so far.

As of July 2023, international flights to and from China will only recover to 53% of 2019 levels.

This is in large part due to staffing issues at many global airlines that limit flying on more routes, slow issuance of visas for Chinese tourists due to visa backlogs in many Western countries, and a sluggish domestic economy that prevents many Chinese holidaying Willing to spend a lot.

In response to the news, some Chinese said online that they were less enthusiastic about international travel.

“I don’t want to go; I think domestic travel is not bad, for example, the scenery in Xinjiang and Northeast China is beautiful, and the food is also cheap,” said a Weibo user @Chongshengshilangbushilang.

But others are more optimistic.

“Despite the cooling of the overall economy, 40% of people in (Chinese) say they will spend more on travel,” said Steve Saxon, a partner at McKinsey & Company. “People want to spend the money saved during the new crown epidemic on international travel. “.

Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, noted that the news led to a spike in searches for destinations such as Australia and Japan. These countries, along with several other Asian countries and the United States, are among the most visited by Chinese tourists.

“The opening of group tours from China to the United States is an important milestone,” said Adam Burke, director of the Los Angeles Convention and Tourism Bureau. “The importance of Chinese tourism to Los Angeles cannot be overstated.”

It is the first time large-scale Chinese group tours have been allowed since 2016, when controversy sparked over Seoul’s deployment of a U.S. missile defense system, two sources in the South Korean tourism industry told Reuters. China has never publicly acknowledged restricting group travel to South Korea.

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