Beijing, China – Mandy Yang, a marketing specialist in Beijing, prepares to go abroad after China’s borders reopen on January 8.
Yang, 42, and his family renewed their passports in November and were recently looking for flights to Chiang Mai in Thailand.
For Yang, like many other Chinese, this will be her first overseas trip since China closed its borders in March 2020.
“Once I travel, I will want to experience local customs and cuisine,” Yang told Al Jazeera. “I don’t necessarily buy luxury items, but I would choose to spend money on four- or five-star hotels.”
Not only did Yang appreciate the history and culture of Chiang Mai, which was founded in the 13th century as the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom, but she was also impressed to see the Thai Ministry of Tourism recommend offers free COVID-19 vaccine to attract tourists. On the Chinese social media platform WeChat, articles about the so-called “free vaccine packages” have attracted considerable attention.
“Strategies can vary, but the bottom line here is that these countries want to keep their citizens healthy and safe first,” Yang said, adding that she planned to get the booster shot. back on your trip. “Only then can tourists feel safe.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic left the country isolated, China was the world’s largest outbound tourism market, with tourists spending more than $127.5 billion in 2019.
Following China’s announcement on Tuesday that it would be canceling its quarantine for arrivals as part of the lifting of its strict “COVID-free” policy, Trip.com has released country bookings outside increased 254% compared to the previous day.
On Wednesday, China’s immigration authorities announced that they would also continue to process passport applications and issue entry and exit permits for travelers to and from Hong Kong, where the system is located. separate immigration system from mainland China.
However, after nearly three years stuck at home, Chinese tourists face a growing list of restrictions abroad.
The United States, Korea, Japan, India, Italy and Taiwan have introduce COVID testing to travelers from China in recent days amid fears the increased cases in the country could lead to the emergence of new and potentially more deadly variants. Chinese state media have labeled the measures as “discriminatory”, while some medical experts question their necessity.
While Thailand, which received more than 10 million Chinese visitors annually before the pandemic, has not announced any new restrictions, the possibility of a large number of visitors contracting COVID-19 has caused some anxiety in the country. this Southeast Asian country.
“We should increase protection… and should do tests to find out what kind of variants are coming from China to find out if they are more serious than the variants that have been found in Thailand, Chaturon Chaisang, former deputy prime minister and senior member of the main opposition Pheu Thai party, was quoted as saying in the Thai Enquirer on Tuesday.
A 32-year-old university counselor in Beijing, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had planned to visit Japan this spring but had been postponed by restrictions.
“I really wanted to visit Tokyo, but when I saw the news on Weibo about the restrictions, I knew it was not the right time to go there,” she told Al Jazeera. “There is nothing I can do about it. I can stay in Beijing or go somewhere in China to travel this summer.”
Leon Liu, who runs several travel agencies in China, said he considers the measures taken by other countries “very normal and understandable” and he does not expect them to last long. Liu said he expects a “buffer period” of three to six months after the Lunar New Year festivities before Chinese tourists can return to pre-pandemic levels of tourism.
“Most of the airlines I spoke to said they have plans to recover in April,” Liu told Al Jazeera. “In our case, we hired new staff and started training them to prepare for tourists who will travel abroad.”
Liu said he does not expect the tourism industry to recover strongly during the “buffer period” because of the possibility of sudden regulatory changes.
Crystal Zhou, a tour operator in Beijing, said her company is still reeling from the downturn of the past three years.
Zhou said she hasn’t seen a significant increase in bookings yet, although she has received more inquiries from guests looking for information on visas, airline tickets and foreign travel rules.
For now, she is cautious about the impact of China’s planned reopening.
“Of course, we are satisfied with the reopening, but on the other hand, we are really worried about the health of our guests because there has not been such a rapid policy change before,” Zhou told Al. Jazeera.
Despite border restrictions being lifted soon, Liu still advises his clients to “stay in China and spend the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday with family”.
“Let’s wait for the situation to normalize first,” he said. “That’s what’s best for everyone.”
As for Yang, who is still searching for the cheapest tickets to Thailand, she hopes travel easier than before the pandemic will boom again in 2023.
“I hope that changes like testing and isolation will not happen again,” she said. “I want to live and travel like before. After all, I’m lucky to be able to go out right now.”