China: the resumption of foreign travel is struggling to take off

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There very strict policy of “zero-Covid” of the communist government in Beijing still leaves today aftereffects in the airline sector : the resumption of Trips abroad -and therefore international flights- are struggling to take off.

In August 2023, the international capacity of Chinese airlines has barely managed to 50% of 2019 pre-pandemic levelsaccording to data from the aerial analysis company OAG (Official Aviation Guide).

Before the pandemic, three countries – South Korea, Japan and Thailand – were experiencing strong growth in Chinese airline capacity. All three enjoyed more than 1 million seats from China in August 2019. In comparison, in August this year, capacity to serve South Korea reached 600,000 seats in August, 42% below 2019 levels, while Japan and Thailand were even further behind, at 55% and 62% respectively.

Among the 10 largest international markets in 2019, Singapore has recovered the most, with capacity at 80% compared to August 2019. The United States is the furthest behind, at only 7% of the level of 2019, which means that the United States market which represented nearly 500,000 seats in August 2019 had fewer than 35,000 seats in August 2023.

The same is true for France and Europe where the number of flights is still well below pre-Covid levels. Published last May, a report from the European Travel and Tourism Economy Commission (ETC) forecasts that China-Europe travel is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2026. Why so low capacity then that Beijing has authorized the Chinese to travel abroad, individually or on organized trips? The demand is simply not there, according to OAG.

A combination of factors continues to impact the ability of tourism markets to persuade Chinese travelers to return: travel restrictions which have impacted both the ability to travel and the perception of ease of travel; a slowdown in the Chinese economy, a realization by many people in China that domestic travel in a country as large as their home country offers myriad opportunities without passport or visa requirements; and a change in travel aspirations“, explains OAG in its analysis of the Chinese air market.

It remains to be seen whether Chinese tourists will actually return in as large numbers as before to these once-popular destinations. “Competition to attract once-high-spending Chinese tourists is and will continue to be fierce, with promotional activity taking place both within China and through a range of digital channels. There is no doubt that recovery is underway (…) because travel has been restricted for so long, but it is not yet clear whether we will see a full recovery in all markets, with similar traveler volumes and the same level of spending“, concludes OAG.

John Walker Avatar