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COVID policy delays return of Chinese

BUSINESS: Even with relaxed rules for foreign-invested travel agencies in some provinces and municipalities in China to conduct outbound tourism, the continuation of the zero-COVID policy means tour operators in Thailand might have to wait until the end of next year for the return of this market.

By Bangkok Post

Wednesday 19 October 2022, 09:46AM

Photo: Bangkok Post.

Photo: Bangkok Post.

On Oct 8, China’s State Council issued an updated regulation that temporarily allows foreign-funded tour agencies based in Shanghai and Chongqing to operate outbound tourism businesses for Chinese citizens. These agencies can offer overseas travel until April 8, 2024, reports the Bangkok Post.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said while some might view this move as a positive sign, the Chinese market will continue to remain paltry as long as tour groups are not allowed to take outbound trips or a mandatory quarantine remains.

“This amendment might be an attempt to convince foreign investors after China’s strict lockdown saw many foreign companies relocate or divest from the mainland. We still need to wait for the result from the Chinese government after the 20th Communist Party National Congress finishes this week,” he said.

Mr Sisdivachr said tour operators have little hope China will loosen travel restrictions for Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan 22, 2023, because the message from President Xi Jinping during the congress was quite clear that the zero-COVID policy will remain.

In a worst-case scenario, he said Thai tourism might have to wait until the end of next year to welcome tour groups from China as Beijing is expected to take a cautious approach to border controls by gradually easing pandemic curbs within the country first.

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“According to our partners in China, domestic tourism there is also sluggish at the moment, mainly because of provincial lockdowns. There’s a possibility the government will prioritise domestic consumption by lifting the blanket lockdown and will impost strict controls in particular areas with infected patients,” said Mr Sisdivachr.

He said given the global economic slowdown, China is expected to be affected, with GDP growth for the nation falling from last year’s tally of 8%.

The pressure from lower global demand and the trend of Western enterprises turning their backs on China will push the country to intensify support for domestic industries, including tourism, instead of allowing citizens to venture out, said Mr Sisdivachr.

“The Chinese government’s target of 5% GDP growth is lower than 2021, but remains relatively high despite the border closures,” he said.

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