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Holiday to spur recovery in tourism

By end-2023, sector bounced back to 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels

By ZHU WENQIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-06 09:49

A tourist enjoys snow scenery on the snow-covered ancient city wall in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi province, Jan 16, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

The speedy recovery of China's tourism sector has injected momentum into the global travel industry, spurred on by various visa-free policies and increased airline capacity, and China's outbound and inbound tourism markets will continue to grow rapidly this year, said the United Nations' World Tourism Organization.

By the end of last year, global tourism recovered to 88 percent of levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic. International tourism is well on track to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024, despite economic challenges and uncertainties, said the World Tourism Barometer report recently released by the UNWTO.

The upcoming Chinese New Year break, which extends from Feb 10 to 17 — a day longer than usual — is expected to unleash the full potential of China's dynamic travel and consumption markets, an expert said.

"Travel has become a rigid demand point for urban and rural residents seeking better quality of life, and nothing can hinder the long-term prosperity of the tourism market and the high-quality development of the tourism industry," said Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy.

The recent announcements of visa-free policies between China and the Southeast Asian countries of Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia are expected to spur more international travel during the Spring Festival holiday period.

More direct flights connecting cities in China with Southeast Asia have been launched to cater to growing demand among passengers.

Since Thursday, the number of flights from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur operated by China Southern Airlines increased from three to four flights per day. The carrier's flights from Guangzhou to Bangkok rose from four to five daily, covering different time periods throughout the day.

In addition, Guangzhou-based China Southern has been cooperating with the local government by holding various activities to attract more overseas Chinese residing in Southeast Asia to return to China for the long holiday, the airline said.

In addition, Scoot — the low-cost arm of Singapore Airlines Group — said the 30-day visa-free policy between China and Singapore, which is set to begin on Friday, has provided more options for travelers to explore the world. The carrier, which operates direct flights connecting 17 Chinese mainland cities with Singapore, is fully confident in the growth potential of China's air travel demand.

"China has always been an important market for Scoot, and flights connecting Chinese cities account for one-quarter of our global route network. With China-Singapore visa-free policy coming into place, demand for flights between the two countries is expected to be stronger," said Lee Yong Sin, general manager of Scoot China and vice-president of sales at Scoot.

Meanwhile, China announced in late November a unilateral 15-day visa-free entry policy for holders of ordinary passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia, during the period from Dec 1, 2023 to Nov 30, 2024, and global searches for inbound travel to China have significantly increased since then.

The International Air Transport Association announced that the recovery in air travel continued in December and total traffic in 2023 edged even closer to matching pre-pandemic volume.

Total air traffic in 2023, measured in revenue passenger kilometers, rose 36.9 percent compared with 2022. Globally, full-year traffic in 2023 returned to 94.1 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to the IATA, which represents some 300 airlines comprising 83 percent of global air traffic.

Last year, Asia-Pacific airlines posted a 126.1 percent rise in full-year international traffic compared with 2022, maintaining the strongest year-on-year growth among different regions, the IATA said.

"The strong post-pandemic rebound continued in 2023. The restoration of connectivity is powering the global economy as people travel to do business, further their education, take hard-earned vacations and much more," said Willie Walsh, IATA's director-general.

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