South Korea

China lifts ban on group travel to US, Japan and other major markets

Passengers walk past a five-star-shaped installation at Daxing International Airport in Beijing, China, April 24, 2023.REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File photo

BEIJING, Aug 10 (Reuters) – China has lifted restrictions on group travel to more countries during the pandemic, including major markets such as the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia, which could benefit their tourism industries.

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.

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

This is China’s third list of approved countries. The first batch of countries approved in January included 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 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, international flights to and from China had only recovered to 53% of 2019 levels.

This is due in large part 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 has led to many holidays being delayed. Chinese people don’t want to spend big money. .

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

A Weibo user @Chongshengshilangbushilang said: “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.”

But others are more optimistic.

Steve Saxon, a partner at McKinsey & Company, said: “Despite the cooling of the overall economy, 40% of (Chinese) people say they will spend more money on travel.” “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.

Shares of companies in the latest group of countries that are more affected by Chinese travel demand jumped on the news. South Korean casino operators posted particularly impressive gains, with Daehan Leisure (114090.KS) and Paradise (034230.KQ) surging 21 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

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.

Reporting by Casey Hall in Shanghai, Sophie Yu in Beijing and Joyce Lee in Seoul; Additional reporting by the Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Jamie Fried and Edwina Gibbs

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Casey has been reporting on Chinese consumer culture in Shanghai for more than a decade, covering the buying behavior of Chinese consumers as well as the broader social and economic trends that drive these consumer trends. The Australian-born journalist has lived in China since 2007.

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