China reopens: caution and opportunities

After three years of restrictions, on January 8th, China has reopened for both inbound and outbound tourism. According to a December 2022 study, 17% of the respondents stated that they would travel abroad as soon as restrictions were lifted, while 52% would do so within a year.
This is certainly positive news, however, the new wave of positive cases in China makes it necessary for destinations and tour operators to consider the implications this will have on the future scenario.

Here are 5 aspects to consider in order to benefit from the opening without wasting resources that could be invested on closer targets.

  1. Pandemic and safety: To date, many countries have introduced the obligation for Chinese tourists to take a COVID test before departure. Chinese citizens are used to regularly taking COVID tests and will need one before returning home, so from this point of view, one more test should not prevent them from traveling. However, with a wide choice of destinations for their first trip abroad after the pandemic, the one that does not require a test will appear more accessible and more easily reachable.
  2. Destinations: For the moment, according to ForwardKeys, the most sought-after destinations would be Macao, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt. It is clear that at least for the first period, Chinese tourists’ trips outside their own country will have as main destinations the Asian countries, geographically closer.
  3. Timing: According to TTG Asia, the first quarter of the year will focus on business or study trips, rather than leisure travel, whose real restart is expected for the second quarter, reaching pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.
  4. Target: Dragon Trail argues that the first to travel will be independent tourists and in the younger age group, probably millennials or Gen-Z. Main travel motivations will be local cuisine and unique experiences related to the culture of the place.
  5. Digital: Chinese social media (69%), travel websites and OTA (49%), KOL and travel blogs (45%) are the most important sources of information on travel destinations for Chinese consumers. In the recovery period, digital channels, the purchase of advertising space and the use of influencers will all be crucial for marketing. As a study by Dragon Trail, ITB China and COTTM shows, WeChat will remain one of the main channels for researching and booking trips and experiences.

We at Twissen observe that, despite the reopening of borders, given the aforementioned implications, the Chinese segment will remain marginal for the next period. It is necessary to study and adapt the strategies to target a specific segment of Chinese tourists, focusing on the most promising destinations and channels.

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