With China re-opening its borders, governments of Southeast Asian countries are setting high expectations on the return of Chinese tourists while airlines are racing to restore flight connections to China. Interest from China is also high, with flight search volume to Southeast Asian destinations surging following the announcement.
China occupied a significant portion of the overall tourism receipts in Southeast Asia pre-pandemic with an average of 19% of the total travel belonging from China. Countries have set their 2023 Chinese arrival targets with Thailand being on top of the list with a target of 5 million arrivals from China. Many SEA countries proposed on-arrival testing without any additional COVID-19 measures and in general tightening of screening for all international arrivals without discrimination against any country.
Cambodia Angkor Air carrier is set to launch a new project linked to Beijing’s “Air Silk Road” to boost connectivity from Siem Reap & Phnom Penh to China and is in the midst of launching commercial flights to Haikou, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing in 2023. Bamboo Airways plans to launch 6 new routes to China while Vietravel Airlines plans to charter flights from Cam Ranh and Da Nang to Hangzhou.
Qunar.com predicts that there is going to be an increase in flight ticket searches by 7 times from China within 15 minutes of border reopening announcement while Trip.com estimates 254% day-over-day surge in flight bookings from China on the day of border reopening announcement. This pent-up demand from Chin will benefit Southeast Asia due to its relaxed travel restrictions and proximity to China. With China as the top source market for SEA pre-pandemic, competition will be high in the region as stakeholders race to attract Chinese tourists back. China’s reopening can lead airlines to finally achieve pre-pandemic level network and capacity. Some technological advances such as integration with Chinese digital payment systems and lifestyle apps, online e-visa application systems and AI translation app to Chinese can be adopted by airline companies to ease this transition for Chinese travellers post pandemic.