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2022-12-27 07:56:04

China’s decision to remove stringent border control restrictions has been welcomed by many, prompting a surge in pent-up demand from Chinese tourists who haven’t been able to leave the country for three years.

Searches for overseas destinations on major travel sites including Trip.com and Fliggy rocketed to an all-time high since 2019 soon after the announcement ending China’s last remaining “zero-COVID” policies was made, according to the two companies. On Monday evening, the country’s top health authority said inbound travelers to the Chinese mainland will no longer need to quarantine or apply for pre-arrival clearance, but would still need a PCR test before boarding, starting Jan. 8.

Data from Trip.com Group showed the most popular searches for outbound flights during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays next month included Macao, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea. Package tours for the weeklong holiday from Jan. 21-27 rose more than sixfold on the travel site.

“It's good timing for me to travel since one of my Korean friends just sent an invitation to go to her wedding in Seoul in March next year,” Ding Zhe, a Shanghai-based engineer, told Sixth Tone.

However, outbound travel remained expensive due to the increased costs of flight tickets and other services, according to domestic media. Trip.com data shows the per capita cost for outbound flights and hotels in the past six months increased 64% and 40% respectively compared with pre-pandemic levels, although hotel prices in some Asian destinations dropped by around 20%.

Fang Zeqian, an analyst at Trip.com, told domestic media that it will take time for the tourism industry to recover, adding that it will eventually return to pre-pandemic levels after most airline and tourism services bounce back.

“When the border is reopened, I plan to take my son to some nearby countries and regions such as Japan, Hong Kong, or Macao,” Zheng Cong, a lawyer and mother of a five-year-old, told Sixth Tone. “But I won’t rush it. The flights and hotels will be expensive in the first few months and there will be a lot of paperwork to do since all my visas have now expired.”

As China opens up, travel experts expect the country to witness a surge in cross-border travel, with the China Tourism Academy predicting a “remarkable recovery” next year. Some 17% of 1,003 respondents in a survey conducted by Dragon Research in November said they would travel overseas as soon as the restrictions were lifted, while 38% planned to travel within six months of the reopening.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: VCG)