• Sun. May 14th, 2023

Where are Chinese travelers going? Thailand and more in Southeast Asia

In a survey last year, Chinese travelers said that they were most interested in visiting Europe, Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea.

But that’s not where they’re going — at least not yet.

Flight restrictions, visa issues and entrance rules aimed only at them are complicating matters for Chinese residents who are ready to travel abroad.

Chinese travelers favored Southeast Asia for trips during the Lunar New Year holidays, which ended in early February, according to Trip.com Group’s Chinese language booking website, Ctrip.

Travel bookings by Chinese residents outside of the mainland grew by 640% from last year’s holiday period — and Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai, Manila and Bali were the top destinations, according to Ctrip’s data. 

Overseas hotel bookings by mainland Chinese travelers quadrupled from last year too, Ctrip said. Yet one place stood out — Bangkok, where “hotels over the holiday increased by more than 33 times,” said Ctrip.

Top spot for tour groups

Thailand is the also the top choice for Chinese tour groups for now, said Thomas Lee, Trip.com Group’s senior director of international business operations.

Ctrip’s first group tour left on Feb. 7, with travelers bound for Bangkok and the nearby beach town of Pattaya, said Lee.

The second-most popular spot for group tours is Maldives, and after that, Egypt, he said.

China resumed group tours organized by travel agencies on Feb. 6. Tours to 20 countries are allowed, including Southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Laos, as well as United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Hungary, Cuba and Russia.  

Group tours to Japan, South Korea and Vietnam are not permitted yet.

Why Thailand is popular

Chinese travelers are choosing Southeast Asia over East Asia

But within days, Thai authorities abandoned the rule, amid rising anger from China toward countries imposing new rules on Chinese residents.

Charnvirakul said Thailand’s policy U-turn was related to science, not fears about upsetting Chinese travelers, adding that “more than 75% of our people have [Covid] antibodies both from vaccinations and from being infected.”

He said of the 30 million tourists Thailand is expecting this year, 12 million to 15 million may come from China.

“Chinese tourists have been very vital for our tourism industry,” Charnvirakul said.

Chinese visitors have been 'vital' to our tourism industry, says Thai deputy prime minister

Top concerns

In other places, Chinese residents face long waits to obtain visas because of high demand.  Before the pandemic, visa applications to enter the European Union were processed in a matter of days, but now applicants are facing waiting times of up to two months, according to the website SchengenVisaInfo.com.

Visas aside, Chinese travelers are also worried about getting sick, said Lee.

That’s why group tours are mainly being booked by “Post-90s and Post-80s” travelers, he said, referring to Chinese generational terms for those born during the 1990s and 1980s, respectively.  

Price may be no problem

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