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Outward bound

By Zhang Linwan | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-25 13:26
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A Chinese tourist poses for her photograph at Don Mueang International Airport in Thailand in February. WANG TENG/XINHUA

Eager travelers quick to book a place as more overseas destinations announced

While there is still more than a month to go before the May Day holiday from April 29 to May 3, domestic travel agencies have seen a boom in outbound trip bookings after the country lifted more overseas travel restrictions this month.

Starting on March 15, China resumed outbound group tours to another 40 countries and regions including France, Greece, Spain, Denmark and Brazil, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Before that, travel agencies were permitted to organize group tours to 20 overseas destinations including Kenya, Switzerland and New Zealand after China optimized its COVID-19 prevention and control measures.

The new policy has released tourists' pent-up demand for long-distance outbound travel, industry insiders said.

Most of the countries on the two lists have canceled their requirements for Chinese arrivals to take a nucleic acid test before making the trip, which makes it more convenient for travelers and has further stimulated demand for overseas trips.

According to data from online travel agency, the number of bookings from March 6-19 for overseas group tours during the holiday increased 167 percent, compared with the previous two weeks. Among the most favored destinations are Thailand, Egypt, Switzerland, Singapore and New Zealand, Ctrip said.

Alibaba's travel branch Fliggy also reported a surge in visa applications for trips during the five-day break, and many of its vacation tour packages have been sold out.

The number of outbound trip bookings for the holiday period will continue to rise in April based on pre-pandemic trends, a representative from Fliggy predicted, adding that they will roll out more products to meet the growing demand.

However, some budget-minded travelers may be deterred by the high airfares and room rates.

A round-trip economy ticket for flights between Beijing and Singapore in early April, for example, costs about 2,300 yuan ($334), but the price will climb to more than 4,000 yuan during the May Day holiday, data from travel portals showed.

In addition, the costs of leisure activities such as diving and spas have also skyrocketed as the holiday approaches.

Cheng Chaogong, a senior researcher at the research institute affiliated to Tongcheng Travel, said international flights are currently in short supply, which has pushed up ticket prices, especially those during the holiday.

Another reason behind the steep prices is that the tourism service industry was hit hard by the pandemic in many countries and has not fully recovered yet, Cheng added.

Yang Yang, general manager of Shanghai-based travel agency Spring Tour, said it will take one to two years for the Southeast Asian tourism market to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The tourists' consumption habits have also changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they now prefer small-sized groups and thorough tours, Cheng said.

Tourism operators are therefore developing more diversified, smallscale and customized products to offer novel and enjoyable experiences.

Shi Tao, director of the marketing department at BTG International Travel and Tours, said that as outbound tourism is still in its recovery phase, they will focus on whether the destination countries can offer quality and standard services when designing products.

Shi added that they are contacting travel agencies in Middle East countries that are quite unfamiliar to Chinese tourists, with the hope of carving out a niche market.

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