On the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, a Chinese tourist surnamed Wu landed in Bangkok, Thailand, together with her parents, at the start of a long-awaited vacation.
"I wanted to take my family to Thailand a few years ago, but it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Wu, who lives in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province. "As soon as the restrictions on our overseas trips were lifted, I booked the plane tickets to Thailand and fulfilled my promise."
As China downgraded its management of COVID-19 and facilitated the smooth and orderly cross-border travel of Chinese and foreign nationals in early January, the outbound travel market, which had been almost dormant for the past three years, quickly recovered during the Spring Festival.
"Currently, the demand for outbound travel is very strong. For instance, our charter flight products to the Maldives on Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve were sold out within three days," said Hang Haijun, head of a travel photo service.
The embassies and tourist bureaus of many countries, including Thailand, Norway and Indonesia, have extended their welcomes to Chinese tourists in various ways since the adjustment of China's COVID response and entry-exit policies.
"For any destination in the world, the return of Chinese tourists is something to look forward to," said Shen Jiani, a senior researcher at the strategic research center of the Ctrip Research Institute, adding that the boost will be felt most in the Asian market, as it is closer to China.
Chinese tourists are now more likely to choose overseas destinations with more open and friendly entry policies.
Data from Trip.com Group shows that nearly half of the hotel bookings made on the platform by Chinese tourists for longer than 20 days are orders for Thai hotels. In the past week, the number of Thai visa applicants in China increased by three times compared with last year, while the number of people buying tourism products for Thailand surged by 10 times year-on-year, according to data from Alibaba's travel branch Fliggy.
Wu said that she and her family left Guangzhou in the morning and landed in Bangkok at noon. It took only 20 minutes for them to complete the customs clearance process. "We were still unsure about the entry situation before we departed China, but the whole process went without any problem," she said.
Chinese tourists to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries have also posted their smooth entry experiences on social media platforms.
The influx of Chinese tourists is adding confidence to the economic recovery of some countries that depend on tourism. Malaysia is expected to receive 1.5 million to 2 million Chinese tourists in 2023, while some related industry practitioners in Singapore estimate that Chinese tourists will generate an additional 2 billion Singapore dollars in annual revenue.
Chinese people's urgent demand for outbound travel is also pushing tourism authorities to adjust policies.
On Jan. 20, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism released a circular to revive outbound group travel to 20 countries with friendly entry policies towards China, including Thailand, the Maldives, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and New Zealand. In Zhejiang, many travel agencies launched outbound group tour products overnight, and the tours of some routes were filled up right away.
"The market recovery is coming more quickly and steadily than expected," said Chen Jin, deputy general manager of China International Travel Service Ningbo Co., Ltd., adding that the resumption of outbound group travel will be a booster accelerating the recovery of the whole tourism industry.