New rules lift prospect of outbound tourism market

After outbound tourism came to a near standstill over the past three years, tour operators are seeing a rapid recovery of the industry with travellers eager to take advantage of the nation’s optimized COVID-19 policies.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced on Friday that travel agencies could resume booking group travel to the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions from Monday.

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council also announced on Friday the normalization of group tours between the mainland and the two SARs.

Mainland and Hong Kong railway authorities have agreed to remove the requirement for passengers travelling to Hong Kong on the Guangzhou-Hong Kong High-speed Railway to present negative nucleic acid test results.

Under the new policy, overseas travellers departing the two regions who haven’t travelled to other international destinations within seven days of departure can enter the mainland without a negative nucleic acid test result.

In late January, the tourism ministry announced that starting on Monday travel agencies could resume organizing group tours to 20 countries and regions, including Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Switzerland.

Thanks to the new policies, tourism operators are expecting to see a boom in outbound travel.

Travel portal Tuniu said as of Monday afternoon, bookings for overseas trips on its platform had surged 324 percent from the previous day.

Bookings made for outbound travel this week are double the number of those made in the previous week, the travel portal said.

Early Monday, the first tour group departed from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, to travel to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, marking the resumption of outbound group tours.

Zhao Wenzhi, President of GZL International Travel Service, said more than 500 tours organized by his company were to foreign destinations.

Although outbound travel had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the previous three years, the company never stopped its contact, communication and exchanges with foreign counterparts, tourism departments, hotels and related organizations to discuss the resumption of business, Zhao said.

Among the 20 selected destinations for group tours, Thailand, the Maldives and Singapore remain the most popular choices for Chinese travellers, travel agencies said.

Hong Kong and Macao are also expected to attract more visitors and tourism revenue.

Information from travel agencies shows their growing popularity as travel destinations after COVID-19 control and entry policies were eased in early January.

An online travel agency said that searches for tour packages to Hong Kong and Macao rose three times after the State Council made the announcement in December.

Yan Dong, director of a travel portal’s international flight bookings, said people from the mainland are eager to visit the two regions thanks to optimized entry and COVID-19 control policies.

Yu Dunde, CEO of Tuniu, said that as outbound tourism continues its recovery, it’s important to offer high-quality products and services to travellers, as resources such as tickets and hotels might have changed in the past three years due to the pandemic.

He said that the company will also focus on recruiting and training employees for outbound tourism as people had left the industry because of COVID-19.

Outbound tourism is still in the preliminary stage of recovery, Yu said, adding that the high price of flights and limited direct flights to overseas destinations may deter domestic travellers.

He predicted that the market will show a stronger rebound in the second quarter of this year.

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