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Fewer Chinese tour groups, more independent travellers to reboot SE Asia travel




Hoping that Chinese tourism is going to ride magically back into Thailand on the back of a gleaming red dragon and save the tattered tourism sector may be precipitous. Of course there are so, so many unknowns even the regular travel writers and consultants are scrambling to forecast a way forward.

For Thailand, the ban on international flights hasn’t even been lifted and expected to be in place until the end of May at least. Even then there will be plenty of questions with completely unknown answers.

• What restrictions will be imposed on international travellers? Covid insurance? Health certificates? Quarantine? Restrictions on internal travel?

• And which countries will be ready or able to travel? Parts of Europe, the UK and the US are still in the midst of their first wave of Covid-19 cases and the international count continues to rise at around 80-90,000 new cases a day over the past month.

• What restrictions will foreign governments put on outbound travel for their own citizens?

• Will the world’s middle class be able to afford the discretionary income to travel any time soon? Will they have a job? How strong is their local economies? Have they cut into their savings over the past three months?

• Once, and if, a vaccine is developed, will we have a vaccine stamp in our passports? …only those who have either had Covid-19 or had the vaccine can travel?

But back to the Chinese. They have already declared their aspirations to travel once their own outbound travel restrictions are lifted. Chinese tourism filled up around 27% of all arrivals into Thailand in 2019 (10,994,721 out of the total 39,797,406).

Phuket-based hospitality consultancy C9 Hotelworks surveyed “qualified travellers” living in China’s tier one cities were asked whether they wanted to travel abroad this year, with 49% responding in the affirmative.

David Johnson, Delivering Asia Communications’ CEO says that a 360 view of the results from over 1,000 qualified respondents concludes that tourism for the remainder of the year will be heavily leveraged by younger travellers in the age range of 20 to 29 years old.

Vietnam proved particularly popular for hopeful holidaymakers. 45% of respondents said they wanted to vacation there, not only because it appears to have successfully kept Covid-19 at bay, with fewer than 300 infections and no deaths reported, but also because of its proximity.

Bill Barnett, says that a post-crisis short-term ‘fear factor’ is expected for extended air travel, which will be manifested in a preference for short-haul, door-to-door flights, which is a key opportunity for China outbound to Vietnam.

“Other countries across the region will want to take advantage of those sentiments.”

The old tour bus cliche with the guide leading the way with the flag may have been an accessible entry point for first-time Chinese traveller, but with a looming unemployment crisis threatening the Chinese economy, it seems unlikely that 2020 will be the year in which many make their first foray abroad.

Even younger adventurers might tread lightly on foreign shores for a while, but if those with the means to adventure overseas choose to do so, it will probably be on their own, not as a group tour.


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