Tourist spots in Asia are quiet as Chinese tourists stay away

Tourist spots in Asia are quiet as Chinese tourists stay away

Tourist spots in Asia are quiet as Chinese tourists stay away

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) — Only a handful of Chinese visitors posed for photos and soaked up the sun this week at the market and plazas near Chiang Mai’s ancient Tha Phae Gate, one of many tourist spots that still await millions of Chinese travelers. turning around

The beaches and temples of destinations such as Bali and Chiang Mai are at their busiest since the pandemic broke out three years ago, but are still relatively quiet.

But Chanatip Pansomboon, a soft drink vendor in the Chinatown area of ​​Chiang Mai, a picturesque riverside city in northern Thailand, was optimistic. He believes that with the number of flights from China steadily increasing, it is only a matter of time.

“If many of them can come back, it will be great as they have purchasing power,” Chanatip said.

The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring many more visitors. At present, only individual travelers who can afford to pay, with flights costing more than three times what they normally do, are traveling abroad.

This includes people like Chen Jiao Jiao, a doctor who posed for photos with her children in front of the brick wall of Tha Phae Gate, escaping the wet chill of Shanghai to enjoy the warm sun and cool breeze of Chiang Mai on her first holiday abroad since The virus appeared in China in early 2020.

“After three years of pandemic and a severe winter, it is now opening,” Chen said. “For us Chinese, the first choice is to visit Chiang Mai because the weather is hot and the people here are very warm.”

In 2019, 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited Chiang Mai, generating 15 billion baht ($450 million) in tourism-related income, money badly lost across the region as countries close their borders to most travel.

Group tours are set to resume from February 6, but the number of tourists coming will depend on the number of flights operating, said Suladda Sarutilawan, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Chiang Mai office. He said the hope is for about 500,000-600,000 visitors from China this year.

Of course more Chinese would like to visit, said Li Wei, a businessman from Shanghai, as he visited the ancient wall with his family of seven.

“Since visas and flights have not returned to normal operation, maybe tourists will come in the next three months,” Li said.

Far to the south, on Indonesia’s tropical tourist island of Bali, shops and restaurants – some decorated with festive red lanterns and red and gold envelopes used for Lunar New Year monetary gifts – were still relatively empty.

Bali’s first post-pandemic direct flight from China arrived on Sunday, bringing 210 tourists from the southern city of Shenzhen, who were greeted with marigold garlands and dance performances.

“Before COVID, we used to work with tour operators that handled Chinese tourists who brought us visitors from China every day, but since they closed, there are far fewer visitors,” said Made Sutarma, a seafood restaurant owner in Bali’s Jimbaran district.

After three years with almost no customers, Nyoman Wisana, general manager of a Chinese restaurant, said he was “very happy” to see Chinese tourists returning.

Fewer than 23,000 Chinese tourists visited Bali from January to November last year, and only a quarter of the island’s 80 tour agencies serving mainly Chinese customers are operating, said Putu Winastra, president of the Bali Association of Indonesian Tourism and Travel Agencies.

“Actually, we’re very concerned about that,” he said.

Indonesia is developing programs to attract more Chinese tourists, including exploring the start of direct flights from major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, he said.

Those who visited this week seemed upbeat after months of strict pandemic controls that have put international travel out of reach for almost all Chinese.

“I feel fantastic since I haven’t been abroad and haven’t come to Southeast Asia to spend my vacation in the past three years,” said Li Zhaolong, a tourist enjoying a day at the beach. “Bali is a very beautiful place, so I’m very happy to come here.”

Closer to home, casinos in the gambling enclave of Macau and popular tourist spots in Hong Kong, a former British colony, drew larger crowds than usual but were still empty compared to pre-Covid-19 days. Normally, places like Hong Kong’s picturesque Ocean Park and Wong Tai Sin Temple, with its Nine Dragon Wall, would be packed with visitors from mainland China.

Leo Guo, who works in the travel industry, brought his wife, daughter, sister and parents for a week filled with visits to Hong Kong Disneyland, Victoria Peak and the harbor skyline, and of course, shopping.

“For mainland China, Hong Kong is a special city different from other Chinese cities,” Lee said. “It’s a top destination for us.”

Further afield in Australia, Sydney-based travel agent Eric Wang said the high cost of travel appeared to be keeping Chinese away even as Chinese airlines increased flights.

The Chinese accounted for nearly a third of all tourism spending in Australia before the pandemic, with more than 1.4 million visits in 2019. Australia, like Japan, the US and some other countries, requires visitors from from China to be tested for COVID-19 before departure. But Wang, who works for CBT Holidays, a company specializing in travel to and from China, said he did not see it as a serious obstacle.

“It’s more for the airlines because the flights haven’t returned to normal frequency, so the airfares are like five times more expensive,” he said.

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Kurtenbach contributed from Bangkok. Sigit Purwono in Bali, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Alice Fung in Hong Kong and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta contributed.

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Find more of AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

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