China permits group tours to new destinations

By Luke Barras-hill |

National travel agencies and online travel companies can now resume package tours combining air tickets and hotels for Chinese citizens to more destinations. Source: Shutterstock/Perfect Gui.

[UPDATED] China has scrapped curbs on outbound group travel services to a flurry of key markets in a potentially significant boon for DF&TR.

Destinations including the US, Japan, South Korea and many hotspots in Europe are among 78 more countries and regions to have now opened to Chinese travellers (scroll to footer for a full list), the Ministry of Culture and Tourism confirmed yesterday (10 August).

It brings the total number of countries permitted to welcome group tours from China to 138.

A statement from China’s Ministry of Culture seen by TRBusiness stated: “Since the resumption of the pilot programme of travel agencies operating outbound group tours for Chinese citizens to relevant countries, the overall outbound tourism market has been operating smoothly and orderly, which has played a positive role in promoting tourism exchanges and cooperation.”

Big boost for Europe

The latest development offers impetus for DF&TR businesses and industry stakeholders, who have reacted favourably to the news.

In Europe alone, 27 countries have joined the list: Ireland, Estonia, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, Montenegro, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Romania, Malta, Monaco, Norway , Sweden, Cyprus, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.

China has permitted a third batch of outbound group tours to countries and regions including Japan, the US, South Korea and the UK. Source: Shutterstock/1ooo Words.

“We very much welcome the fact that travel is opening up again and countries are releasing restrictions,” commented Julie Lassaigne, Secretary General of the European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC).

“We are encouraging all countries to follow the recommendation of the WHO and, now that the pandemic is under control, there is no justification for restrictions in place and we believe international travel should now be fully operational again.”

In comments shared with TRBusiness, Eduardo Santander, Executive Director at the European Travel Commission (ETC) relayed his satisfaction at the restoration of group tours and package travel to Europe.

“Ranking second among all outbound travel markets to European destinations, China is a major source of long-haul travel demand for our continent,” he said. “We anticipate that this news will translate into a stronger enthusiasm for visiting Europe in the next months.

Travel agents eye key holiday periods

“We at the European Travel Commission will continue to work with our Chinese and European tourism partners to facilitate and support the resurgence of Chinese travellers to Europe.”

Beijing’s government imposed strict travel restrictions in early 2020 to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In February this year, it permitted the resumption of outbound group travel products for Chinese citizens to 20 countries, with that number lifting to 40 on 15 March during a month in which it began reissuing visas for different purposes such as tourism.

China signalled the end of its ‘zero-Covid’ policy in December, before cautiously reopening its borders in January by removing quarantine and testing requirements.

Sienna Parulis-Cook, Director of Marketing and Communications at Dragontrail International, a specialist in marketing and digital solutions geared towards the China market, told TRBusiness: “We’ve been anticipating this expansion to the list of countries with ADS (approved destination status) and are really pleased it came as early as it has, since Chinese travel agents will now have ample time to promote and sell outbound group trips and travel packages for the Mid-Autumn Festival and October Golden Week public holiday, which will run from 29 September – 6 October this year.

‘When China wakes, the world shakes’ took place at the TR Consumer Forum in Vienna in June. The session concentrated on the resumption of Chinese outbound travel and the possible implications for duty free shopping and spending.

“It’s a major step in the re-normalisation of Chinese outbound tourism post-pandemic, and in allowing the Chinese travel trade to get back to business when it comes to product sales and development. It also allows the countries newly added to the list to confidently go full-steam-ahead on marketing to China, particularly in terms of travel trade engagement. All around, it’s great news.”

Frankie Ho, President, International Business at iClick Interactive Asia Group Limited, told TRBusiness: “Chinese travellers are renowned for their substantial buying power. This group of consumers often prioritise shopping as a key part of their travel experience, seeking out renowned luxury brands and duty-free shopping opportunities.

“The new-gen consumers are even more so. The Chinese Gen Z consumers are widely known for their high levels of digital engagement and reliance on social media platforms and are willing to spend on products and experiences that align with their individual identities and lifestyle choices. Personalisation and customisation are key factors in capturing their attention and loyalty.

“The further liberalisation of China’s outbound group travel will definitely lead to increased demand for travel services and retail products. This presents a promising outlook for the recovery and growth of both international tourism and travel retail sectors. Businesses that want to capitalise on this pivotal move must cater to this influential consumer group’s preferences, digital habits, and values, and provide exceptional O2O shopping experiences.”

ACI World’s latest quarterly report has tipped passenger traffic volumes across Asia Pacific to reach 2.9 billion in the calendar year, representing 85.3% of 2019 traffic.

China’s shift in policy to unlock its economy, resulting in an uplift in global activity and air travel, is expected to add much-needed impetus to the travel and tourism trade.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism says that all localities should guide travel agencies to supervise and implement the new group travel procedures to protect tourists.

In a LinkedIn poll conducted by TRBusiness earlier this year, more than half of DF&TR respondents expected the revival of outbound travel from China to spark the biggest acceleration for their businesses in 2023.

The revival of outbound Chinese travel and the ramifications for travel retail spending was the subject of a concentrated panel discussion during the TR Consumer Forum in Vienna. Click here to read more.

Full list of destinations in phase three

Asia: Oman, Pakistan, Bahrain, South Korea, Qatar, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Japan, Turkey, Israel, India.

Africa: Algeria, Ethiopia, Benin, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, Ghana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe, Tunisia.

Europe: Ireland, Estonia, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, Montenegro, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Romania, Malta, Monaco, Norway , Sweden, Cyprus, Slovakia, United Kingdom.

North America: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Costa Rica, United States, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica.

South America: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela.

Oceania: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, French New Caledonia.

Main image of Beijing Daxing International Airport. Source: Shutterstock/Markus Mainka

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