Friday, June 14, 2024

China Lifts Covid-era Bans on Group Travel to US, Others

China has finally lifted its ban on group travel to the United States and other countries, three years after it was imposed to limit the spread of Covid.

The USA is among 78 more countries open to Chinese travelers with immediate effect, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said on Thursday.

Other countries include Japan, South Korea, Britain, Germany and Australia.

China imposed outbound and inbound travel restrictions in early 2020, when Beijing had initially contained the pandemic at home and sought to prevent cases coming into the country.

As part of those restrictions, the National Immigration Administration, which issues passports, said in November 2020 that it would “tighten the approval of entry and exit documents for Chinese citizens for non-essential reasons such as travel”.

Then in December last year, Beijing abandoned its zero-Covid policy, dropped quarantine for entry to China and resumed some passport services.

It began to reissue visas to foreigners in March and restarted visa-free arrangements for Singaporean passport holders in July.

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On January 20, the ministry announced the resumption of group tours to 20 countries, including Thailand, Singapore and Russia, before expanding the list to 60 countries in March, adding popular destinations such as Italy, France and Spain.

The 78 additions on Thursday take the total to 138 countries, with Canada and Saudi Arabia the only omissions in the G20.

Consulting firm Oliver Wyman said Chinese outbound tourists accounted for 10 per cent of the world’s total in 2019, spending a combined US$245 billion, or 16 per cent of the global outbound total.

Japan and South Korea were the top two destinations for Chinese tourists in 2019.

Shanghai-based news outlet The Paper reported last month that there was at least a two-month wait for visa application appointments for several popular destinations, including the US, Britain and Germany, signalling a revival of overseas travel.

Steve Saxon, partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Company, said outbound tourism from mainland China was at only 40 per cent of pre-Covid levels and barriers remained to international travel, including visa processing delays for some destinations and higher air fares.

In its statement on Thursday, the ministry urged authorities to keep an eye on the industry.

“Since the resumption of group tours for Chinese citizens, the overall operation of the outbound tourism market has been smooth and orderly and has played a positive role in promoting tourism exchanges and cooperation,” it said.

“[Local authorities] should strengthen supervision and inspection of travel agencies and online tourism companies to effectively maintain the order of the tourism market and safeguard the rights of tourists.”

China’s foreign ministry also urged Chinese travellers to “pay attention to their safety” and travel in a “civilised” manner.

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