Published: 12:14, July 8, 2023 | Updated: 12:28, July 8, 2023
China sees outbound travel surging back; some hiccups linger
By Cheng Si

Chinese citizens enjoy a tour of the city of St. Petersburg on Feb 26, 2023. (PHOTO / CFP)

BEIJING – An increasing number of Chinese travelers are catching the travel bug, with wanderlust returning with a passion as the pandemic more fully recedes in the rearview mirror.

In the just-completed first half of the year, the country's outbound tourism sector is seeing a stable recovery thanks to the optimized COVID-19 control policy, and tourism industry insiders predict that outbound trips will continue to increase as the summer progresses.

The latest figures from Alipay, Alibaba's financial arm, show that its users who paid for overseas trips between January and June have seen average expenses at outbound destinations rise an average of 24 percent over pre-pandemic equivalents in 2019.

Destinations such as Hong Kong and Macao, as well as Japan, Thailand and France, were among the top choices for Chinese mainland travelers in the first half of the year, said Alipay.

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Among these above-mentioned destinations, the Tourism Authority of Thailand said that it has so far received over 1.4 million travelers from the Chinese mainland since early January, and it estimates that such visits to the Southeast Asian nation will reach 5 to 7 million this year.

Tourist visa application approvals to the US and Schengen Area countries have been constrained due to a lack of available appointment slots and personnel, said

However, Chinese mainland travelers' surging demand for overseas travel seems to sometimes exceed relevant visa offices' capacity, with more people complaining on social media that it's harder to get visa application appointments, and rejection levels are higher than anticipated.

Chinese online travel services provider Group said that tourist visa application approvals to the United States and Schengen Area countries — including France, Germany and Spain — have been constrained due to a lack of available appointment slots and personnel.

People's growing desire to visit such countries and regions and the understaffed conditions of visa offices are also reasons behind the tourist visa problems and bottlenecks, Group said.

Li Fang, who is in charge of travel portal Tuniu's visa services center in Beijing, said that June and July are usually peak months for visa applications and travelers should make applications one or two months — or even three months — in advance of overseas journeys.

"From March we've found it was harder to get visa application appointments. In the first two quarters, most of the visa applications were for business trips and family reunions after the contagion control policy was optimized. Then, since late April, tourist visa applications began to make up the majority," said Li.

ALSO READ: Travel market heats up as temperatures soar Group said that during the May Day holiday — a five-day break beginning in late April — orders for its visa services were nearly 60 percent of 2019 levels, and it expects that summer tourist visas this year will exceed numbers recorded during the same period in 2019.

It said that most visa service orders it has so far received are for short-distance outbound travel to neighboring countries, with Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia being the five most popular destinations. For long-distance overseas destinations, Australia and the United Kingdom take the lead.