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New Year holiday fuels passion for foreign trips

By ZHANG LINWAN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-23 10:33
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Chinese tourists tour the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. The country is one of the most favored destinations among tourists from China. WANG TENG/XINHUA

Travel companies reporting massive growth in bookings and online searches.

The outbound tourism market is expected to see robust growth during the upcoming New Year's Day holiday from Dec 30 to Jan 1, with Asian countries as top destinations, tourism operators said.

Alibaba's travel branch Fliggy recorded a 10-fold increase in bookings for overseas trips during the holiday when compared with 2022, according to its report released on Tuesday.

Countries in eastern and southeastern Asia are the most favored destinations, including Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, Fliggy said.

Chinese leading online travel agency Ctrip said that as of Dec 15, bookings for outbound trips for the holiday rocketed fivefold year-on-year on its platform.

Tourists' choices mostly focused on Asian countries, but varied from destinations with famous ski resorts and hot springs to coastal islands, according to Ctrip.

The success of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics has driven explosive growth of Chinese people taking up ice and snow sports. An increasing number of enthusiasts opt to spend their holidays at ski resorts abroad, said industrial insiders.

Data from Ctrip showed that during the first half of December, bookings for ski tours of foreign countries on its platform increased by 460 percent, in comparison with the same period in November.

It's also a popular choice to chase the Northern Lights during the holiday, Ctrip said as the number of orders to Finland and Sweden rose by 73 percent and 10 percent month-on-month, respectively.

Li Linmeng, a 24-year-old student from Beijing Jiaotong University, said she and her boyfriend have booked air tickets to Finland for their holiday. "I cannot wait to start the journey. It will be very romantic if we can welcome a new year with the spectacular aurora," Li said.

Industry experts attributed the booming outbound tourism market, in part, to the optimized visa policies.

In November, Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said the country would allow visa-free entry to Chinese and Indian people holding ordinary passports for up to 30 days starting from Dec 1.

Before that, both Thailand and Sri Lanka announced a visa-free policy for Chinese travelers.

Many foreign tourism authorities and travel agencies, therefore, have taken measures to woo Chinese tourists coming back.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia added 14 immigration counters from Dec 1 to ensure that the entry of foreign tourists is organized and smooth.

Additionally, the requirements for presenting return tickets and proof of accommodation have been relaxed, said the Immigration Department of Malaysia.

Brent Hill, CEO of Tourism Fiji, said in a promotion event held in Beijing in November: "Compared to 2019, Chinese tourists have changed and the high-end market has become more popular. Especially the young generation, they prefer luxury traveling experiences and costly activities such as snorkeling."

"We are diversifying our tour product portfolio and improving services to meet tourists' different needs," he added.

Andrew Hogg, executive general manager of eastern markets and aviation at Tourism Australia, said that offering targeted services is key for them to attract Chinese tourists.

The Sydney Opera House, one of Australia's most famous landmarks, has resumed its Chinese-speaking tour guide services, according to Hogg.

"Australian tourism operators have conducted extensive Chinese language training recently to better serve Chinese tourists," he said.

As outbound tourism rebounded, a growing number of foreign travel agencies are coming to China to promote their local tourism, said Shi Tao, marketing director of the Beijing-based BTG International Travel and Tours.

"Many of them showed great willingness in learning more about Chinese tourists and working with us together to develop tour products," Shi said.

According to the China Tourism Academy, outbound destinations received a total of 40.37 million visits from the Chinese mainland in the first half of 2023, roughly half of the 2019 level.

Nearly 94 percent of them traveled to Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, the academy said.

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