While there are signs Beijing is at least considering its COVID Zero exit strategy, curbs and other restrictions are unlikely to be significantly eased before 2023, given the need for stability in a politically important year. for President Xi Jinping.

McKinsey said in a report in August that outbound travel from China could remain quiet for 18 months, while Goldman Sachs predicts border restrictions could stay in place for the whole year and could even expand. until spring 2023 as transmissions are generally higher during the winter months.

Hong Kong, Macau

Nowhere is the impact more visible than in Hong Kong, itself loyal to the mainland’s isolationist approach, even at the risk of losing its status as a global business hub. Some 51 million tourists, more than three-quarters of the city’s total visitors, came from China in 2018, according to data from UNWTO and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Globally, Hong Kong was the top destination for Chinese tourists in 2018, hosting 33% of the approximately 145 million Chinese who traveled abroad that year. They injected about $27 billion into the economy, according to the city’s statistics department.

Macau, known for its casinos, was not far behind, receiving 25.3 million, more than 17% of all outbound tourists from China. Thailand was the third most popular destination in 2018, the year before the pandemic with the most comprehensive data available. Some 16.9 million Chinese traveled to the Southeast Asian country, spending around $16.1 billion.

Before COVID, South Korea, home to K-pop and a cutting-edge cosmetics scene, was attracting Chinese people at a blistering pace. In 2018, nearly 4.8 million people visited, a 15% increase from 2017, spending about $8.9 billion, according to Bloomberg News calculations based on government spending data.

Things are very different now.

“Income is zero”

“Before the pandemic, nearly 70% of all Chinese tourists came to Korea as part of group tours. Now the revenue is zero,” said Cho Il-sang, a representative of Hana Tour Service, Korea’s largest travel agency. “I saw someone quit and start working as a delivery boy.”

In Cambodia, Christian de Boer, general manager of the Jaya House hotel in Siem Reap, doesn’t think Chinese visitors will return until 2023. He estimates they made up 40% of all travelers to Cambodia. Jaya House has closed two of its sister hotels and is keeping one open at reduced capacity.

The repercussions are also being felt on the other side of the world.

In Venice, a city where flocks of pre-COVID tourists caused pollution and water congestion, Caffe Florian is missing a key group of customers.

Chinese tourists have also disappeared from Venice.Credit:Bloomberg

Chinese visitors were a “constant and large” influx before the virus, said Renato Costantini, manager of the Italian cafe that dates back to 1720. Most came in large groups and spent big, he said.

Filippo Frank, owner of the Villa delle Rose hotel in Rome, a family business in operation since 1979, said Chinese tourists before the pandemic covered solo travellers, the middle class and young people.

“After 2020, they disappeared”

“But after 2020 they disappeared,” Frank said. “We reopened in September 2020 after the lockdown, and since then no Chinese citizens have come from China. Chinese tourists were of course not as numerous as Europeans or Americans, but it was a pretty good and growing community.

China has become “notoriously good at stopping the flow of outbound travellers,” according to Doug Lansky, an independent tourism consultant and author of 10 books, including two for Lonely Planet and three for Rough Guides. And the Chinese population “respects official travel advisories more than many others”.

It was a trend even before COVID, Lansky said, citing the 2018 arrest of Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada. The move prompted China to issue a travel advisory against the nation, rapidly drying up tourism.

“For this reason, any country receiving Chinese visitors doesn’t just need to be ‘China ready,'” Lansky said. “They need to be ‘China Un-Ready’, meaning they need to have a solid plan in place in case Chinese visitors suddenly disappear.”

“COVID was really a nail in the coffin for many companies. I want to take over the management of guesthouses, but we can no longer expect Chinese travelers to return.

Amnart Daungsing, Chiang Mai guest house owner

Some spots do just that. The Maldives, for example, has doubled its consumer marketing efforts in places like Australia and India. The latter has established itself as the main source of visitors to the archipelago for two consecutive years.

“When you look at a place like the Maldives, China was the biggest supplier of tourists,” said Bill Heinecke, founder and chairman of Minor International, one of Asia’s largest hotel, restaurant and style companies. of life. “Today it’s hitting new pre-COVID highs, and they’re doing it without the Chinese. Dubai is also seeing higher hotel rates.

But for every story of success, there are many more stories of unhappiness. Pockets of Thailand’s tourism sector, which accounted for around a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product and 20% of employment, have collapsed.

Chairman of Thai Airways International’s restructuring plan, Piyasvasti Amranand, said most international traffic to Thailand currently comes from Europe. “We are not counting on China this year in our plan,” he said in an interview at the Singapore Airshow in February.

In Phuket, only around 30% of hotels are open – the majority that relied on Chinese visitors are still closed. The island was “heavily dependent on Chinese arrivals, especially in the years leading up to the pandemic”, said Angkana Tanetvisetkul, president of the Kata Karon Business Association, which represents more than 40 local hotels in Phuket.

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After the release of the Chinese comedy Lost in Thailand in 2012, Chiang Mai’s popularity increased and the northern city famous for rafting and jungle treks also entered the wish list of many Chinese travelers. said Amnart Daungsing, owner of two guesthouses and helps run the Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association.

Chinese tourists made up 80% of his business and he even hired a tutor to help teach him and his staff Chinese so they could communicate better. The influx has also spurred a proliferation of small businesses in the area. Today, more than half have closed. Amnart was also forced to close its guesthouses and take odd jobs, such as selling durians online.

“COVID was really a nail in the coffin for a lot of companies,” he said. “I want to take over the management of guesthouses, but we can no longer expect Chinese travelers to return.”

Bloomberg

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