For China’s travel-starved masses, wanderlust calls | Aviation

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Beijing, China – Beijing-based marketing expert Mandy Yang is ready to travel abroad when China’s borders reopen on January 8.

Yang, 42, and his family renewed their passports in November and are recently looking for flights to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Like many Chinese, it will be Yang’s first trip abroad since China closed its borders in March 2020.

“When you travel, you want to experience local customs and cuisine,” Yang told Al Jazeera. “I don’t need to buy luxury goods, but I choose to spend my money on four or five star hotels.”

Not only does Yang appreciate the history and culture of Chiang Mai, which was founded in the 13th century as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, but Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism is offering free COVID-19 vaccine boosters to attract tourists. I’m impressed to see you suggesting that. On Chinese social media platform WeChat, an article about a so-called “free vaccine package” has received a lot of attention.

“The strategies may differ, but the bottom line here is that these countries want to keep the health and safety of their citizens first,” said Yang, who plans to get booster shots during the trip. “Only then can tourists feel at ease.”

Before the country was isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic, China was the world’s largest outbound tourism market, with its tourists spending more than $127.5 billion in 2019.

After China announced on Tuesday that it would lift quarantines on arrivals as part of lifting its stringent “no coronavirus” policy, announced a 254% increase in outbound bookings compared to the previous day.

China’s immigration authority said on Wednesday it would also resume processing passport applications and issuing entry and exit permits for travelers to and from Hong Kong, which has a separate immigration system from mainland China.

But after staying at home for nearly three years, Chinese travelers are facing increasing restrictions abroad.

The United States, South Korea, Japan, India, Italy and Taiwan have recently introduced COVID testing for travelers from China. Amid concerns that a surge in cases in the country could lead to the emergence of new and potentially dangerous variants. China’s state media has denounced the measure as “discriminatory”, but some health experts have questioned its necessity.

Thailand, which welcomed more than 10 million Chinese tourists each year before the pandemic, has not announced any new restrictions, but the prospect of a massive influx of COVID-19-infected travelers is a major threat to Southeast Asia. It is causing unrest in the country.

“We need to deploy some guards…and to find out what kinds of subspecies are coming in from China and see if they are more serious than the ones found in Thailand. We need to conduct tests,” said former lieutenant Chaturon Chaisang, the prime minister and senior member of the main opposition Pheu Thai party, told the Thai Enquirer on Tuesday. Quoted.

China was the world’s largest outbound tourism market before the pandemic, with its tourists spending more than $127.5 billion in 2019 [File: Tingshu Wang/Reuters]

A 32-year-old university counselor in Beijing who wished to remain anonymous said she had planned to visit Japan this spring but had to postpone it due to restrictions.

“I really want to go to Tokyo, but when I saw the news about the restrictions on Weibo, I knew it wasn’t the right time to go there,” she told Al Jazeera. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I might stay in Beijing this summer or go on a trip somewhere in China.”

Leung Liu, who runs a number of travel agencies in China, said he thought the measures taken by other countries were “very normal and understandable” and didn’t expect them to last long. He said he expected a “buffer period” of three to six months after China’s Lunar New Year celebrations before Chinese tourists could return to pre-pandemic levels of travel. .

“Most airlines I have spoken to say they are planning a recovery in April,” Liu told Al Jazeera. “In our case, we hired new employees and started training them for tourists traveling abroad.”

Liu said he did not expect the tourism industry to recover significantly during the “buffer period” as regulations could change suddenly.

Crystal Zhou, a tour operator in Beijing, said her company was still reeling from the recession of the past three years.

Zhou said he has seen an increase in inquiries from guests seeking information on visas, airline tickets and overseas travel regulations, but bookings have yet to rise significantly.

For now, she’s cautious about the implications of China’s planned reopening.

Zhou told Al Jazeera, “Of course, we are happy with the reopening, but on the other hand, we have never had such a quick change in policy, so we are really concerned about the health of our guests.

Despite the imminent lifting of border restrictions, Liu advises customers to “stay in China and spend the next Lunar New Year holidays with their families.”

“We will wait for the situation to normalize first,” he said. “It’s great for everyone.”

Still searching for the cheapest tickets to Thailand, Yang hopes 2023 will make travel easier before the pandemic.

“I hope changes like testing and quarantines don’t happen again,” she said. I have.”

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