China’s tourism industry, which was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, has not fully recovered despite the reopening of borders and the easing of travel restrictions. The number of foreign tourists visiting China is a fraction of pre-pandemic levels, with the sector relying on domestic travel to survive.
One of the main reasons for the low inbound tourism is the difficulty of obtaining a visa to enter China. Many foreign visitors have to go through a lengthy and complicated process, which may include providing proof of vaccination, negative test results, health codes, and quarantine arrangements. Some countries, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, still face travel bans or restrictions from China due to political or health reasons.
Another factor that may discourage foreign tourists from visiting China is the heightened security and anti-espionage measures that Beijing has implemented in recent years. Foreigners may face increased scrutiny and surveillance when traveling in China, especially in sensitive areas such as Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. Some foreigners have also been detained or arrested on charges of espionage, endangering national security, or violating visa rules.
These issues may have a negative impact on China’s image and reputation among potential visitors, as well as its diplomatic and economic relations with other countries. Foreign tourists not only bring revenue to the tourism sector, but also contribute to cultural exchange, mutual understanding, and business opportunities.
Domestic tourism rebounds during national holiday
Despite the challenges of attracting foreign tourists, China’s domestic tourism has shown signs of recovery and resilience during the recent eight-day national holiday that combined the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, about 826 million domestic trips were made during the holiday period, up 4.1% from 2019 and 71.3% from 2020. The tourism revenue reached about 753 billion yuan ($103 billion), a rise of 1.5% over 2019 and 130% over 2020.
The strong performance of domestic tourism reflects the pent-up demand for travel among Chinese consumers after months of lockdowns and restrictions. It also indicates the confidence and satisfaction of the public with China’s handling of the pandemic and its economic recovery. Many popular destinations, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an, and Guilin, saw large crowds of visitors who enjoyed the scenic spots, cultural events, and local cuisines.
However, domestic tourism also faced some challenges and risks during the holiday period. Some tourist sites were overcrowded and poorly managed, posing potential threats to public health and safety. Some travelers also encountered difficulties in booking transportation, accommodation, and tickets due to high demand and limited supply. Some regions also experienced extreme weather conditions, such as typhoons, floods, and landslides, that disrupted travel plans and caused casualties.
Outbound tourism remains sluggish amid global uncertainty
While domestic tourism has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, outbound tourism has remained sluggish and uncertain amid the global spread of Covid-19 variants and the uneven vaccination rates across countries. The number of flights to and from China is still below pre-pandemic levels, and many Chinese travelers face travel bans or restrictions from other countries.
According to booking agency Trip.com, outbound travel volume during the holiday period was more than eight times higher than in 2020, but still far below 2019 levels. The most popular destinations were Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea, which have established travel bubbles or visa-free schemes with China. Some Chinese travelers also ventured to more distant countries such as Switzerland, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and France.
However, outbound tourism also faced some challenges and risks during the holiday period. Some travelers had to deal with changing travel policies, testing requirements, quarantine measures, and health codes in different countries. Some travelers also encountered incidents of crime or violence in foreign countries, such as a mall shooting in Thailand that killed one Chinese tourist and injured another. Some travelers also expressed concerns about the quality and safety of medical services in foreign countries in case of emergency.
Outbound tourism is expected to remain subdued in the near future as the global pandemic situation remains unpredictable and volatile. China may also tighten its border controls and outbound travel policies to prevent imported cases and new outbreaks.