Lunar New Year tourist hopes fade as Chinese stay home

Lunar New Year tourist hopes fade as Chinese stay home
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BANGKOK (AP) — The expected Chinese tourism boom in Asia during next week’s Lunar New Year festivities appears to be more of a blip, with most travelers opting to stay within China if they’re going anywhere. .

From the beaches of Bali to the dusty ski slopes of Hokkaido, the hordes of Chinese often seen in the days before COVID-19 will continue to disappear, tour operators say.

It’s a bitter disappointment for many companies who had hoped the hard times of the pandemic were over after Beijing eased travel restrictions and stopped requiring weeks-long quarantines. Still, bookings for trips abroad have skyrocketed, suggesting it’s only a matter of time until the industry picks up.

“I think the tourists will come back in late February or early March at the earliest,” said Sisdivachr Cheewarattaporn, president of the Thailand Travel Agents Association, noting that many Chinese lack passports, flights are limited and operators tourist are still preparing to manage group tours.

The risks of COVID-19 are another important factor, as outbreaks persist after China’s sweeping policy shift, he said in an interview. “People may not be ready, or may just be preparing.”

For now, the Chinese territories of Macao and Hong Kong appear to be the most favored destinations.

Just days before the start of the Lunar New Year on Sunday, the iconic tourist spots of the former Portuguese colony, such as the historic Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Paul’s, were packed. The gambling halls of two major casinos were largely full, with groups of Chinese visitors sitting around the craps tables.

“I am so busy every day and I don’t have time to rest,” said Lee Hong-soi, a souvenir shop owner. He said sales had recovered to around 70%-80% of pre-pandemic days from almost nothing just a few weeks ago.

Kathy Lin was visiting from Shanghai, partly because it was easy to get a visa, but also because she was concerned about the risks of contracting COVID-19. “I still don’t dare to travel abroad,” she said as she and a friend took photos near the ruins, originally the 17th-century Mater Dei Church.

That concern keeps many would-be vacationers at home even after China relaxed “zero COVID” restrictions that sought to isolate all cases with burdensome mass testing and quarantines.

“The elderly in my family have not been infected and I do not want to take any risk. There is also the possibility of being reinfected with other variants,” said Zheng Xiaoli, 44, an employee at an elevator company in Guangzhou, southern China. Africa was on his bucket list before the pandemic, but despite the yearning to travel abroad, he said: “There are still uncertainties, so I will exercise restraint.”

Cong Yitao, an auditor living in Beijing, was not worried about contracting the virus as his entire family already had COVID-19. But he was put off by testing restrictions and other limits imposed by some countries, including the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia, after China loosened its pandemic precautions.

“It seems that many countries do not welcome us,” said Cong, who instead planned to head to a subtropical destination in China, such as Hainan Island or Xishuangbanna, to enjoy warm weather.

According to, a major travel service company, overseas travel bookings for January 1. 21-27 The Lunar New Year holiday increased more than five times. But that was next to nothing from the year before, when China’s borders were closed to most travelers.

Bookings to travel to Southeast Asia multiplied by 10, with Thailand being the first option, followed by Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Travel to other favorite spots, such as the tropical resort island of Bali and Australia, has been constrained by a lack of flights. But that is changing, with new flights being added daily.

“You will see an increase, for sure, compared to last year when China was still locked down, but I don’t think you will see a huge increase in outbound travelers to different destinations within Asia-Pacific, let alone Europe or the Americas. said Haiyan Song, a professor of international tourism at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Tourism Australia forecasts international traveler spending to exceed pre-pandemic levels within a year. Before the COVID-19 disruptions, the Chinese accounted for nearly a third of tourism spending, nearly $9 billion.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport has increased staffing to cope with more than 140,000 arrivals a day during the Lunar New Year rush, though only individual Chinese travelers will be coming for now; group travel from China has not yet resumed.

As a bright orange sun set behind the ancient Wat Arun, along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, a Shanghai man who gave only his last name, Zhang, posed with a companion in colorful traditional Thai silk costumes.

“It’s very cold in China and Thailand has summer weather,” Zhang said, adding that he knew many people who had booked tickets to get away from the cold and wet weather in their hometown.

Still, for many Chinese, the lure of traveling the world has been eclipsed, for now, by the desire to go back home and catch up with their families, almost exactly three years since the first Major coronavirus outbreak in the central city of Wuhan. in one of the greatest catastrophes of modern times.

Isabelle Wang, a financial worker in Beijing, has traveled to Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. After three years of a slower life during the pandemic, her priority is to reunite with her family in Shangrao, a city in south-central China.

“We still have a lot of time left in our lives, and there will certainly be opportunities to go abroad later when we want to,” he said.


Leung reported from Hong Kong and Macao. News assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing and Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Tassanee Vejpongsa and Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul in Bangkok, and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia contributed to this report.

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