Seat capacity for China outbound travel set to improve in Q2 2023

ForwardKeys has released its take on 2024 travel trends

Positive predictions from ForwardKeys as APAC travel bounces back.

Travel analyst ForwardKeys has predicted that outbound China travel will grow in Q2, as more seats connect Chinese travellers to the rest of the world.

The APAC region currently holds the largest share at 81%, with a recovery rate of +43% in Q2. Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan are the best-connected destinations with China.

According to the latest consumer survey data from marketing company Dragon Trail International, Northeast Asian destinations Japan and South Korea remain highly popular with Chinese travellers, despite the travel restrictions they imposed on Chinese visitors earlier this year.

READ MORE: ForwardKeys: China reopening sparks flight surge for Lunar New Year.

Hong Kong & Macau top the rankings

The April survey polled 1,012 Mainland travellers about their plans and preferences for outbound travel. Hong Kong remained the clear top choice for mainland Chinese travellers in 2023, followed by Macau.

Looking beyond Greater China, Thailand is still the number one country that Chinese travellers plan to visit in 2023, followed by Japan and South Korea.

As was the case with previous Dragon Trail surveys, France and Australia were the top long-haul destinations for Chinese travellers this year.

“Even though travel restrictions in Japan and South Korea received a lot of attention in January, these destinations are still very attractive to Chinese tourists,” noted Dragon Trail Market Research Analyst Yelinuer Kadeerbieke.

“The results should come as a relief to other destinations that might be concerned about the impact of travel restrictions earlier this year.”

Source: ForwardKeys Seat Capacity Data. Source: ForwardKeys 2023.

The latest air ticketing data from ForwardKeys shows the same destinations with the highest travel demand. As the airline industry begins its summer season on 26 March, seat capacity for Chinese outbound travel has been enhanced.

Africa and the Middle East are set to increase the most, up +75% in Q2. However, the market share is small, as only 6% of total international capacity is from China.

The United Arab Emirates is the most well-connected destination in its region, with a 44% share, while the number of seats between China and Kenya has doubled since 2019, driven by Kenya Airways. Egypt has also experienced +10% growth, as both Egyptair and Sichuan Airlines in China have increased seats.

Source: ForwardKeys Actual Air Ticket Data, ©ForwardKeys 2023

These three countries are included in the destination list of the approved group tours and have a close relationship with China through the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative.

“Seat capacity recovery to Europe is driven by Chinese airlines, as European airlines are facing a significant hurdle: far longer flights due to the closure of Russian airspace, while Chinese airlines can still use that airspace,” explained ForwardKeys China Market Expert Nan Dai. “Also, some of the European airlines are having challenges with a shortage of staff, strikes and hub airport constraints.”

Key connecting role for Incheon

Capacity to the Americas in Q2 is set to recover only 10% of pre-pandemic seats, as many airlines have yet to restore their capacity in the China-US market.

Due to the current absence of direct flights between China and the US, Hong Kong and Incheon International Airport are becoming even more popular for connecting traffic.

“Most Chinese passengers who use [Incheon] as a connecting hub are travelling to France and the UK in Europe, as direct capacity from China to these two destinations has decreased by -85% and -58%, respectively,” adds Dai.

ForwardKeys is holding a joint webinar about outbound China travel with Dragon Trail International on 26 April. Registration is free, and webinar attendees will receive a copy of the complete consumer report following the presentation. Click here to register.


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