Asia tourist hubs ready for China influx

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Tokyo (AFP) – In Tokyo’s tourist district of Asakusa, cartoonist Masashi Higashitani dusts his Chinese as he prepares for an influx of travelers after Beijing ends inbound quarantine rules.

“We always said ‘ni hao,'” he said with a laugh as he prepared a portrait within minutes.

In 2019, nearly 9.6 million Chinese visited Japan, by far the largest group of foreign tourists, a huge jump from the 450,000 that arrived in 2003.

Higashitani estimates that about 20 percent of his customers were from China prior to the outbreak, and he and his staff learned Chinese expressions from these visitors and from each other.

She had to downsize and let staff go during the pandemic, so while she admits she’s a little concerned, the anticipated wave of arrivals leaves her excited.

“I wonder if the influx of large numbers of people will exceed our capacity? I’m also worried that we need to be more careful about countermeasures,” he told AFP.

Women wearing Japanese kimonos walk on the Nakamise shopping street near Sensoji Temple in Tokyo on Thursday
Women wearing Japanese kimonos walk on the Nakamise shopping street near Sensoji Temple in Tokyo on Thursday © Yuichi YAMAZAKI / AFP

Travelers returning to China will no longer need to be quarantined from Sunday, and one of the main barriers to travel for the country’s population will be removed.

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The move, announced in late December, sparked a travel planning spree as searches for Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and South Korea surged.

Chinese tourists also make up about a third of pre-pandemic foreign visitors to South Korea and are among the top three groups to visit Thailand and Indonesia.

‘Its not the time’

At a crepe stand in Seoul, Son Kyung-rak said she’s already making plans to deal with a flood of tourists from China.

A ministry of culture official said the drop in Chinese visitors during the pandemic has hit South Korea's tourism industry hard.
A ministry of culture official said the drop in Chinese visitors during the pandemic has hit South Korea’s tourism industry hard. © Ed JONES / AFP/File

“We want to recruit and we’re getting ready to stock up,” the 24-year-old told AFP in Seoul’s popular downtown Myeongdong district.

“Chinese tourists are our main customers, so the more the better.”

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Officials in Seoul, however, are more cautious.

Yun Ji-suk, an official from South Korea’s culture ministry, said the drop in Chinese visitors was “a blow to our tourism industry”.

“However, due to the ongoing Covid situation, now is not the time to be active in tourism marketing.”

China’s sudden lifting of pandemic restrictions has sparked a huge wave of infections, but Beijing’s refusal to share information means the scale of the increase is uncertain.

It’s even been enough to startle governments around the world, with some countries banning those from China.

Seoul limits flights from China, and travelers from the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau will need to test negative before travel. Mainland visitors will also be tested on arrival.

Japan has announced similar rules for China, although travelers to Hong Kong and Macau are exempt.

‘Full house’

Other Asian tourist destinations, such as Indonesia, have decided not to impose any restrictions.

Indonesia is among the countries that do not impose any restrictions on travelers from China
Indonesia is among the countries that do not impose any restrictions on travelers from China © SONNY TUMBELAKA / AFP/File

Two million Chinese tourists visited annually before the pandemic, and restaurant owners on the resort island of Bali are hoping for a rebound.

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Kadek Sucana, who runs a seafood restaurant in the Jimbaran area, told AFP, “Before the pandemic, we had a lot of Chinese customers… At least 100 to 200 customers were coming in every day.”

“He hopes for a full house again… because Chinese tourists come in large groups”.

As Beijing relaxes most of its Covid restrictions, overseas travel by tour groups remains prohibited.

And there are few signs that the availability of flights will quickly catch up with renewed demand.

As a result, travel destinations in Asia expect any recovery in Chinese tourists to be slow.

China has been Thailand's largest source of tourists for several years.
China has been Thailand’s largest source of tourists for several years. © Mladen ANTONOV / AFP/File

Indonesia targets just over 250,000 Chinese tourists in 2023; this is some of the pre-pandemic numbers.

Thailand, which has also not introduced new rules, is hoping for around five million Chinese tourists this year, less than half of the arrivals in 2019.

Tourism accounted for about 20 percent of Thailand’s national income before the pandemic, and China is the largest source of foreign tourists.

“This is an opportunity to improve our economic situation and recoup the losses we have suffered for nearly three years,” Thailand’s Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul Anutin said on Thursday. said.

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