Beijing, China – Mandy Yang, a marketing professional in Beijing, is ready to travel abroad after China’s borders reopen on January 8.
Yang, 42, and her family renewed their passports in November and recently applied for flights to Chiang Mai in Thailand.
For Yang, like many other Chinese, it will be her first overseas trip since China closed its borders in March 2020.
“Once I travel, I will want to try the local customs and cuisine,” Yang told Al Jazeera. “I don’t need to buy luxury items, but I will choose to spend my money on four or five star hotels.”
Not only does 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 when she saw Thailand’s tourism ministry propose offering free COVID vaccine boosters -19 to attract tourists. . On China’s social media platform WeChat, articles about the so-called “free vaccine package” have attracted considerable attention.
“The strategies may be different, but the bottom line is that these countries want to keep their citizens healthy and safe first,” Yang said, adding that she planned to take a reinforcement initiative during her trip to her. “Only then can tourists feel safe too.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the country into lockdown, China was the world’s largest outbound tourism market, with its tourists spending more than $127.5 billion in 2019.
Following China’s announcement on Tuesday that it would lift its quarantine on arrivals as part of an easing of its strict “zero-COVID” policy, Trip.com posted a 254 percent increase in overseas bookings compared to the previous day .
On Wednesday, China’s immigration authorities announced they would also resume processing passport applications and issuing entry and exit permits to travelers bound for and from Hong Kong, which has a separate immigration system from the Chinese mainland.
After nearly three years of being stuck at home, however, China travelers face a growing list of overseas restrictions.
The United States, South Korea, Japan, India, Italy and Taiwan have introduced COVID tests for travelers from China in recent days amid concerns that rising cases in the country could lead to the emergence of new and potentially more dangerous variants. Chinese state media have labeled the measures “discriminatory,” while some health experts have questioned their necessity.
While Thailand, which welcomed more than 10 million Chinese visitors annually before the pandemic, has not announced any new restrictions, the prospect of a large influx of travelers with COVID-19 has caused concern in the Southeast Asian country.
“We should have some guards … and tests should be administered to find out what kind of variants are coming from China to find out if they are more severe than the variants that have been found in Thailand,” Chaturon Chaisang, a former MP. The prime minister and a senior member of the main opposition Pheu Thai party was quoted as saying in the Thai Enquirer on Tuesday.
A 32-year-old university adviser in Beijing, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had planned to visit Japan this spring but was put off by the restrictions.
“I really want 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. “I can’t do anything about it. I can stay in Beijing or go somewhere in China to travel this summer.”
Leon Liu, who operates a number of travel agencies in China, said he considers the measures taken by other countries “very normal and understandable” and does not expect them to last long. Liu said he expects a “buffer period” of three to six months after the Chinese New Year celebrations before Chinese tourists return to pre-pandemic travel levels.
“Most of the airlines I’ve spoken to say they plan a return in April,” Liu told Al Jazeera. “In our case, we have hired new employees and started training them to prepare for the tourists who will be traveling abroad.”
Liu said he does not expect the tourism industry to see a strong rebound during the “buffer period” because of the potential for sudden changes in regulations.
Crystal Zhou, a tour operator in Beijing, said her company is still reeling from the downturn of the past three years.
Zhou said she has yet to see a significant increase in bookings, although she has received more inquiries from guests seeking information about visas, airline tickets and overseas travel rules.
For now, she is cautious about the effect of China’s planned reopening.
“Of course, we are happy 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 quick policy change before,” Zhou told Al Jazeera.
Despite the imminent lifting of border restrictions, Liu has advised his clients to “stay in China and spend the upcoming Spring Festival holiday with family”.
“Wait for the situation to normalize first,” he said. “It’s the best for everyone.”
As for Yang, who is still looking for cheaper tickets to Thailand, she hopes the ease of pre-pandemic travel will return with a bang in 2023.
“I hope that changes like testing and quarantine will not happen again,” she said. “I want to live and travel the same as before. At the end of the day, I’m lucky to be out now.”
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