Unfortunately, the more the rest of the world opens up to international travel, the higher the risk that China will become increasingly isolated in the outbound travel market.
Not good news from me. Does zero-COVID strategy in China work better than live-with- COVID strategy in the West? I have my opinion but I am in no profession to discuss this. But my view is, the longer China sticks with the zero-COVID strategy, the longer we have to wait to see the Chinese outbound tourists to return. I think most of us feel it at this point but just many China experts that rely on Chinese business do not wish to break this bad news.
I’ll be honest. I am now in Canada with no flights returning to Hong Kong till end of March in addition to the strict 21-day hotel quarantine requirement. Not only Hong Kong, there are more flights canceled from US, Canada, UK to China in the month of February & March. So, you can understand the answer to the question does not only depend on whether the borders open or not. With strict quarantine rules for airline crew and the short-notice flight suspension mechanism, many airlines choose not to fly the routes to Hong Kong & China.
And it does not stop here. Chinese government has imposed even stricter rule now to require one more PCR test i.e. 7 days before departure then another PCR test 48 hours before departure. Upon arrival, the longest quarantine port is Shenyang, which they call 28 + 28, which means 28 days of complete lockdown in a hotel then another 28 days of home quarantine. 56 days in total… will you travel? One will be considered lucky if their ports of call only require 14 + 7 like Shanghai, Guangdong at this point. All these are add-on costs to travel, money plus time plus stress i.e. quarantine hotel cost, PCR test cost, insurance cost coupled with the anxiety at the airport, to get tested frequently, etc. Hence, international travel even for business cannot easily happened under this zero-COVID strategy.
Meanwhile in the West, UK just relaxed its travel restrictions. From 11 th of February, fully vaccinated people traveling to the UK will no longer need to take any COVID tests – either before or after arrival. From where I am, in Ontario Canada, our Premier announced that the plan is to lift most measures by mid-March and hopefully life will be back to “normal”.
In addition, World Health Organization (WHO) also said COVID-related travel restrictions should be lifted. Obviously, this is in support of the live-with-COVID strategy.
Unfortunately, the more the rest of the world opens up to international travel, the higher the risk that China will become increasingly isolated in the outbound travel market. So, when will we see Chinese outbound tourists again?
I have seen a brief news article by Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) that stated that 2023 – 2025 will be when there will be explosive growth of the travel market again, including the resume of international travel.
While there are many uncertainties, to end on a positive note, when my company does social listening for the China market (yes, we are still working), we learnt that their desires to travel internationally have not ever decreased. In fact, we can see the pent-up demand is building up and the interest to know what’s happening in other parts of the world is increasing. My wishful thinking is, once the Chinese government adjusts its strategy, which can be overnight, the floodgate will open and we will see the happy faces of Chinese outbound tourists again.
Anita Chan is the CEO of Compass Edge. Anita worked for hotel chains, hotel representation companies in Canada, digital agencies for hospitality industry and leading OTA in Asia, soft brand company in Europe before joining Compass Edge.