As China reopens to the world for the first time in nearly three years, 24-year-old May Liang is wasting no time planning her first trip.
The Nanjing city-based student hopes to travel to Hong Kong later this month and has already budgeted 5,000 yuan ($730) for luxury cosmetics.
“I miss the cityscape, the atmosphere and the food so much,” she said. “Beauty products sold in Hong Kong are still competitively priced. I trust their authenticity more than those sold on Chinese e-commerce platforms.”
Since early 2020, the world’s largest tourist population has been disconnected from the rest of the world. ChinaEquipment with zero Covid restrictions including mass testing, lockdowns and quarantine of arrivals.
As Beijing this weekend finally dismantle the last of those measures, it is set to change. Across the world, airlines, hotels and luxury companies are gearing up for the return of tens of millions of tourists and their billions of dollars, but experts say the revival will take several years to fully pick up pace. It suggests that it could take months.
May travel visas to Hong Kong, which reopened its border with China on Sunday, expired in 2019, reflecting greater impediments to travel from the closed country, while services were suspended during the pandemic. China had “hardly restricted” outbound travel to prevent residents from returning home with the virus.
In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, 155 million Chinese traveled abroad, spending $255 billion, according to Citi analysts.
The earliest impact could be felt in Hong Kong, where tourism accounted for 4.5% of the economy in 2018. Announced a quota of about 60,000 Daily arrivals in each direction when borders reopen on Sunday.
I can’t wait for their return. In the first 10 months of 2022, mainland visitors to Hong Kong were just 249,000, down from more than 51 million in 2018.
Mainland Chinese tourists’ taste for luxury goods has also been the lifeblood of Hong Kong’s sluggish retail industry, according to property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield.
Restrictions on commercial flights and backlogs of visa applications for major global destinations such as Europe and the United States could mean that the impact of China’s reopening may take time to materialize.The China Outbound Tourism Institute said , estimates that 18 million Chinese tourists will travel abroad in the first half of this year.
Eduardo Santander, CEO of the European Travel Commission, said: “There is a lot of potential demand for travel from the Chinese, but the problem is to issue visas and create additional flight connections. So how can we be agile to deal with the Chinese?” .
London luxury department store Harrods is buying inventory of clothing designed for the Chinese for the first time since 2019. Managing director Michael Ward points to the lack of flight availability as an early roadblock. However, we forecast that it will accelerate in the second half of the year.
“If Chinese tourists come back, we are talking about so many things,” he said. “Our prospects have improved twice as much as he did. We can go back to the country and talk to the wealthy and bring back old friends in the UK who we haven’t seen in years.”
In Japan, where Chinese tourists accounted for 30% of overseas arrivals before Covid, their return is crucial to meeting the industry’s $37 billion annual target. recent appreciation of the yen From the lows of recent decades to retail investors betting on the influx of Chinese tourists, buying patterns are invigorating.
Masaki Akita, president of department store chain Matsuya, told reporters this week that the group expects increased sales of food and cosmetics. We expanded the number of tax refund counters at our flagship department store in Shinjuku Ward.
However, with Japan joining countries such as the US, UK, France, Italy and Spain to impose border controls and mandatory inspections on visitors from China, analysts expect arrivals to return to pre-pandemic levels at a maximum. He said it could take two years.
An Isetan Mitsukoshi spokeswoman said, “Although we are starting to see a return of wealthy Chinese customers, we cannot expect an explosion of cosmetics purchases like we have seen in the past.”
In the United States, where China was one of the largest sources of inbound tourists pre-pandemic, businesses are also not well prepared. After the Chinese government’s decision last week to lift inbound quarantine rules, searches for flights from China to the United States jumped 40 percent, while inquiries from the opposite direction doubled, according to travel site Expedia. Became.
Even as China is engulfed by the worst outbreak of the pandemic, the speed of the policy shift has surprised onlookers. I had already arranged a trip to Italy in September for my wedding.
“At the time, we predicted the reopening would be in the first half of 2023, but we didn’t expect it to be this soon,” said Yu.
Enforcement of the zero Covid rule was effectively dropped after the easing was announced, often well before Sunday’s deadline.
When Zhao Xiaoou, a 26-year-old master’s degree student in Zurich, returned to Shanghai this week after spending nearly a year and a half abroad, he managed to be confined, even though quarantine rules were still in effect. Avoided. Police and airport officials didn’t particularly care, he said. Only hotels, an industry suffering from a shortage of tourists, were still trying to force it.
“Hotel [wanted] Wherever they can get it, it’s a little bit of extra income,” he said.
Additional reporting by Xueqiao Wang from Shanghai, Oliver Barnes and Arjun Neil Alim from London, Andy Lin, Chan Ho-him and Gloria Li from Hong Kong, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson from New York and Kana Inagaki from Tokyo