China resumed outbound group travel on Monday after a COVID-induced suspension of three years, further unleashing pent-up demand and cheering hotels, airlines and tour operators.
With China as the world's largest outbound tourism market before the pandemic, the move is set to boost the global tourism industry. 155 million Chinese tourists spent $245 billion abroad in 2019, according to a study by Oliver Wyman, a consulting firm.
At the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, with great joy, Huang Xing, 69, checked in with three of his friends for a long-planned trip to Phuket, Thailand.
They had made several overseas trips together before the pandemic, and now they are also planning a trip to Eastern Europe later this year.
"Thailand is relatively close, and even though it is a group trip, the schedule is quite relaxed and it's nice to be with friends," said Huang.
Huang is flying with 24 other vacationers on a Thailand-bound tour organized by the Shanghai Airlines Tours International (Group) Co., Ltd on the first day that group travel resumed.
According to Nonglux Yooyendee, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Shanghai Office, 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019, which accounts for a quarter of Thailand's inbound market. It is estimated that 5 to 6 million Chinese tourists will visit Thailand this year.
The resumption of outbound group travel in China is of great significance to Thai tourism, and the governments and private enterprises in both countries have shown positive attitudes in this regard. Travel companies that cater to tourists in Thailand are rolling out relevant products to meet the preferences of Chinese tourists, Nonglux Yooyendee noted.
Yet the full recovery of the industry may still take some time. The World Tourism Organization projected that international tourist arrivals could reach 80 percent to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2023.
Zhou Weihong, deputy general manager of Spring Tour Travel Agency, said several factors are still restricting the recovery of the outbound travel market, including the shortage of international flights and the high cost of group tours, inflicted by exorbitant air fares, and hotel and reception fees.
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Tourism enterprises are therefore considering more diversified, small-scale and customized products to attract would-be vacationers with niche marketing and a better service experience.
"We also hope overseas destinations will be ready to embrace the influx of Chinese tourists, in terms of the supply chain, ground resources, flight delivery, personnel and so forth," said Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy.
(With input from Xinhua)