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Chinese tourists celebrating Lunar New Year elsewhere except in the Philippines

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THE Philippines has yet to benefit from the sudden reopening of mainland China to international travel.

In its latest report, global ticketing data aggregator ForwardKeys said outbound flight bookings by Chinese travelers jumped by 192 percent between December 26, 2022 and January 3, 2023, compared to the same period last year. It added, 67 percent of these bookings were for travel during the period when Chinese celebrate the Lunar New Year, which begins on January 22.

However, these bookings are still 85-percent behind pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, there were close to 155 million outbound trips taken by mainland Chinese. Mainland China reopened its borders to international travel on January 8, as Beijing lifted its zero-Covid policy in December, after a series of mass protests by citizens against frequent testing and community quarantines.

“Currently, the most popular return trips are to Macau, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt,” said ForwardKeys.

“Notably, bookings to Abu Dhabi, which has traditionally been a major gateway between China and the West, are 51 percent behind 2019. Looking at onward bookings from there, 11 percent will go to Paris, 9 percent to Barcelona, 5 percent to London, 3 percent to Munich, and 3 percent to Manchester,” it added.

Travel rebound for the first time in 3 yrs

The Philippines signed an Implementation Program on Tourism Cooperation with China during President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s recent visit to Beijing, which  is expected to generate higher Chinese tourist arrivals and increased investments in tourism. (See, “PHL hopes for more tourism infra investments from China,” in the BusinessMirror, January 6, 2023.)

In 2019, China ranked as the second largest source of tourists for the Philippines, with 1.74 million arrivals, accounting for 21 percent of the total 8.26-million  international travelers that year. In 2022, there were 39,627 tourists from China, putting the market in 10th place, of the total 2.65-million arrivals.

Meanwhile, Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said although China will see a rebound in international travel during the Lunar New Year, for the first time in three years, it is still uncertain that this will lead to an explosion in global travel by Chinese tourists.

“The reasons are: First, current scheduled international flight capacity is only at 10 percent of 2019’s level; and owing to approval requirements for traffic rights and airport slots, it will be difficult for airlines to gear back up in less than a few months. Second, ticket prices remain high, with average air fares in December 160 percent higher than in 2019. That said, there has been a downward trend since June, when quarantine was reduced from three weeks to seven days, and then to five days in November,” he stressed.

More countries impose Covid testing

Ponti added, the new pre-flight Covid test requirements by many countries imposed specifically on Chinese travelers, along with an anticipated bottleneck and passports renewals and visa requirements may put off many of them from outbound travel.

“[Some] countries, such as South Korea and Japan, are restricting short-term visas for Chinese travelers until the end of this month. Right now, we expect the Chinese outbound market will pick up strongly in Q2 2023, when airlines schedule capacity for the spring and summer, which include the May holiday, Dragon Boat festival in June and summer holidays.”

Many countries in the European Union have already required Chinese travelers to submit negative pre-departure Covid tests, along with the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Israel, Morocco, and Qatar.

In Asia and the Pacific, countries that have introduced more Covid measures on Chinese tourists include Australia, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. Philippine stakeholders have also called for an increase in entry requirements for Chinese tourists. (See, “Nancy, tourism stakeholders, DOTr: Tighten border controls for Chinese tourists in PHL,” in the BusinessMirror, December 29, 2022.)

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