Intelligence Strong Chinese interest in outbound travel, with recovery accelerating from summer 2023 By TTG Asia / Posted on 24 January, 2023 16:57 More than 60% of Chinese travellers surveyed by Dragon Trail on the eve of China’s reopening expressed interest in traveling outside China in 2023. While survey results indicate that recovery will pick up gradually throughout the first sixth months of the year, Dragon Trail expects a strong comeback to start from July, along with a bumper eight-day Golden Week holiday for Mid-Autumn Festival and China’s National Day (September 29 to October 6). Chinese travellers are favouring nearby Asian destinations that have not applied differentiated Covid-19 measures for them Sharing the results of the January 2023 Chinese Traveler Sentiment Report at a joint webinar with travel analysts ForwardKeys just before the start of the Chinese New Year holidays, researchers noted that findings are aligned with booking trends. China’s decision to ditch its zero-Covid policy has triggered a surge in flight bookings, according to the latest data from ForwardKeys. Intra-regional neighbours in Asia will reap the benefits the most. “Let’s go”, “waited for too long”, “feels happy”, and “enjoy the freedom” were just some of the overwhelmingly positive sentiments shared by the 60.4% of survey respondents who said they wanted to travel outside of China in 2023. “This group expressed high expectations about the freedom of cross-border travel this year. Survey respondents said they were excited to relax, as well as to experience the scenery, food, culture, and shopping overseas,” shared Dragon Trail market research analyst Yelinuer Kadeerbieke. Top China outbound destinations are in South-east Asia “Forward bookings for Chinese New Year are currently 47% behind pre-pandemic levels but already 30% ahead last year,” said ForwardKeys’ analyst Nan Dai. South-east Asian destinations are most likely to first benefit from the return of Chinese tourists. “All these destinations have relaxed rules for Chinese travellers. Arrivals from China will not be required to provide test results for Covid-19. Visa waiver to Indonesia, visa-on-arrival to Thailand, Cambodia and the UAE – all make it even easier to travel,” added Dai. Dragon Trail’s data also points to strong recovery for Asian destinations. Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand topped the list of outbound destinations to which Chinese tourists plan to travel in 2023. Notably, Hong Kong was chosen by 20.7% of survey respondents, with 11.4% choosing Macau and 11.1% planning a trip to Thailand. Recovery of the Chinese outbound market will pick up this summer Despite high demand for cross-border trips, the lack of flight capacity and high fares could be the bottleneck for China’s outbound travel recovery in 1Q2023. “Current scheduled international flight capacity in 1Q2023 is only at 21% of 2019’s level; and owing to approval requirements for traffic rights and airport slots, it will be difficult for airlines to gear back up very quickly. We can expect a more significant increase when airlines schedule for the next summer season starting from March 26,” opined Dai. Kadeerbieke added: “Our survey results show that while recovery will start gradually in the first six months of 2023, it’s clear that outbound travel will start to pick up in the second half of the year. 42% said they would travel outbound in July and August, with 32% planning an autumn Golden Week getaway outside China.” The outbound China market is vital in the travel food chain, so the return of the sleeping dragon in time for the Lunar New Year with promises for greater growth over the summer period will be a game changer for the travel sector in 2023.