China to Resume Pilot Outbound Tours to Selected Countries 

Posted by Written by Giulia Interesse Reading Time: 3 minutes

On January 20, 2023, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced that Chinese travel agencies and online tour operators would restart providing pilot outbound group tours. 

As per the ministerial notice, from February 6, 2023, Chinese travel agencies will be able to open outbound group travel for Chinese citizens to 20 countries – Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Fiji, Cuba, and Argentina. 

The notice also stated that travel companies will be allowed to provide travelers with airline and hotel packages.  

According to the ministry, the decision is based on factors related to COVID-19 control measures and socioeconomic growth, and it was taken at the request of the foreign affairs panel of the State Council’s Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism – the country’s major COVID-19 management task force.   

The notice promises to improve oversight of business activities in an effort to keep the tourism sector in good shape. Travel organizations should declare the details of each trip on the appropriate platforms and avoid planning tours outside of the specified time frame or to unlisted locations. Local authorities are requested to increase their oversight of illicit activities, such as tours with “unreasonably cheap pricing.” 

With regards to COVID-19 measures, the notice states that authorities must inform tour operators to closely adhere to regulations that are in place both in China and abroad. Before boarding the flight, travelers will be requested to “make sure they are not infected”. They will also be urged to “pay attention to their own safety and health, adhere to local COVID-19 rules while traveling, and follow epidemic prevention guidelines once they are back”. 

Good news for overseas tourist destinations

The news has been well received by many Chinese and international businesses that have struggled under almost three years of strict lockdowns and travel restrictions. Following the recent recovery of international travel, several countries have extended their warm welcome to Chinese visitors. 

On Wednesday, the Maldives held a colorful ceremony to welcome the first Chinese visitors since 2020. Passengers from China were welcomed at an airport in Thailand by the deputy prime minister and other government representatives, who also gave them garlands and health packs. 

Analysts noted that the pilot program for the resumption of outbound group tours marks a significant achievement for China after its suspension of travel and border restrictions for almost three years. The move shows Beijing’s increased confidence in pandemic prevention measures while the country enters a new phase of its COVID-19 management and response. 

Possible recovery of the outbound tourism industry in 2023

Several online travel agencies have observed a significant resurgence in outbound travel. Following China’s sudden U-turn in COVID-19 policy, online travel bookings have rapidly increased. For instance, during the 2023 Spring Festival period, reservations on Fliggy (Alibaba’s travel-services platform) quadrupled for outbound travel services to 33 countries and regions, with bookings to Thailand, the Maldives, and New Zealand rising more than 10 times over the previous year.  

Data from Trip.com, a well-known provider of travel services in China, revealed that only 30 minutes after the announcement, the volume of searches on the company’s search engine for international hotels and air tickets reached a three-year high.  

Meanwhile, the number of orders for departure airline tickets increased by 254 percent on the morning of December 27, 2022, compared with just the day before. Singapore, Japan, Thailand, and the Republic of Korea were among the most popular travel destinations at the time of the search. 

2023 is already looking to be a promising year for the tourism industry. 


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