13th February 2024 – (Beijing) As China rings in the Year of the Dragon, its tourism industry is springing back to life. With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, Chinese citizens are again traveling domestically in droves during the Lunar New Year festivities. Meanwhile, expanded visa-free policies are welcoming international guests back to experience China’s iconic sites and culture.
After enduring a challenging past few years, China is primed for a tourism renaissance. This revitalisation illuminates a new chapter focused on openness and exchange with the world. While complete recovery will require time, China is already fostering travel’s revival at home and abroad through strategic opening up.
This Lunar New Year has seen a remarkable resurgence in Chinese citizens’ enthusiasm for domestic travel. The China Tourism Academy estimates Chinese will make approximately 6 billion domestic trips in 2024, matching pre-pandemic levels.
Propelled by considerable pent-up demand after years of restraint, China’s domestic tourism revenue is projected to leap 23% this year to $839 billion, surpassing even the $796 billion achieved in 2019. Air ticket bookings for the Lunar New Year break jumped 60% compared to 2023, as major hubs like Beijing and Shanghai witnessed hotel reservations rise 50% or more.
Lengthy lockdowns had severely dampened tourism entrepreneurs’ confidence, but optimism has progressively recovered as willingness to vacation rebounded. While intra-province trips expanded during pandemic restrictions, Chinese are again adventuring further afield throughout the country. This vigorous domestic renaissance aligns with the government’s strategic vision to develop tourism as a new economic growth engine. Having weathered a rocky 2023, injecting energy into travel and hospitality will stimulate both consumer spending and entrepreneurship nation-wide.
However, international tourism’s complete restoration remains slower, projected at around 50% of 2019 levels presently. But visas and flights are steadily expanding to welcome global guests back.
In a major boon for world tourism, China is progressively implementing visa-free travel with numerous countries. Recently inked visa-free agreements with Singapore and Thailand instantly delivered a surge in travel over this Lunar New Year. Under the new Singapore arrangement, Chinese trips spiked fifteen-fold, with 90% of travel between Shanghai and Singapore now visa-free. Thailand saw similarly exponential visa-free growth thanks to eased access.
Additional visa-free agreements are on the horizon as China continues strategically opening up international exchange. These moves unlock the door for the world to once again appreciate the richness of China’s history, culture, and attractions. To further catalyse global travel, China is also refining visa application procedures through reduced documents and requirements. With open arms, China’s visa improvements beckon international friends to relish its remarkable hospitality.
However, analysis indicates travel’s recovery remains uneven presently. While domestic and intra-Asia journeys rebounded robustly, tourism from farther abroad continued lagging at around 30% of pre-pandemic strength last year. This imbalance partially stems from border restrictions still limiting long-haul travel from the West. But as two-way visa-free policies expand globally, tourism inflows from Europe and North America will likely accelerate. Some claim anaemic international restoration owes to closed Chinese travel agencies and exorbitant costs, but the reality holds more nuance. Ultimately, surmounting the lingering limitations of the past requires all nations working in concert.
Reviving China’s enormous tourism industry after its unprecedented dormancy also necessitates realistic timeframes, not overnight miracles. But the country is unquestionably now on the path to again welcoming the world.
In doing so, China is not only re-energising its economy and entrepreneurs. This reopening also nurtures invaluable people-to-people bonds that promote cultural exchange and understanding. While tourism alone cannot wholly bridge international divides, this openness represents a powerful starting point. By once more sharing their unique treasures, countries construct foundations of trust and appreciation essential for cooperation and peace.