Saturday, May 25, 2024

Chinese outbound travel surges in 1Q, approaches pre-pandemic levels for Labour Day: ForwardKeys | TTG Asia

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Fresh data from ForwardKeys indicates a remarkable resurgence in Chinese flight bookings, signalling a robust recovery for the country’s outbound tourism industry in 1Q2024.

Nancy Dai, China market expert at ForwardKeys, underscores this progress: “So far, there are no signs of stagnation. In 1Q2024, outbound travel was just 32 per cent down on 2019 levels, cementing China as a top market for global air travel.”

Chinese travel agencies have also witnessed a surge in outbound bookings, especially with countries offering visa-free access, such as in Thailand, pictured

For May Labour Day holiday period of April 27 to May 5, ForwardKeys sees international travel departures at only 13 per cent below 2019 levels, with several key regional destinations even expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels – the highest being Malaysia with 42 per cent growth, South Korea at 37 per cent and Singapore at nine per cent. Additionally, the UAE, Turkey and Italy all show double-digit growth compared to the same period in 2019, backed by increased seat capacity.

Chinese travel agencies have also witnessed a surge in bookings: Ctrip’s visa services saw a 30 per cent spike year-on-year, surpassing 2019 levels, with top destinations including Japan, South Korea, the US, Australia, the UK, Vietnam, Canada, and New Zealand. Spring Travel’s doubling of group travel bookings against last year’s, especially to Europe, nears 2019 levels, while TIC Travel forecasts a staggering 400 per cent year-on-year increase in outbound travellers.

The recovery is driven by rising demand from second-tier Chinese cities, outpacing larger counterparts like Beijing and Shanghai.

“Tier one cities are recovering at a much slower pace compared to smaller, second-tier origin cities,” stated Dai, noting that smaller cities like Hangzhou, Xi’an, and Shenzhen are already exceeding 2019 levels in outbound travel, while larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai lag behind.

Furthermore, Dai pointed out the impact of visa-free travel policies, citing new additions such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, who have joined the list of countries offering visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to Chinese citizens.

“Examining the destinations that have laid back visa requirements for Chinese travellers since 2023, it’s clear that relaxed visa requirements play a significant role in attracting Chinese tourists. This is evident in the 115 per cent increase in travel from China to Kazakhstan, 18 per cent growth to Singapore, and near complete recovery in travel to Russia in the first quarter of 2024,” shared Dai.

However, she was quick to quantify that Kazakhstan’s success is also due to a 23 per cent increase in flight availability and its location as a country nearby with affordable winter travel packages. Thailand’s performance, on the other hand, has performed below average for Chinese outbound travel, likely due to the negative impact of the shooting incident in October last year.

“This suggests that while visa waivers are a major draw for Chinese travellers, other factors like safety concerns and threat connectivity also play a crucial role when they are choosing holiday destinations,” she concluded.

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