TravTalk - India

All eyes now on China opening

- Nisha Verma

As China gets ready to travel again, the forecast is that it will reach 2019 numbers of outbound travellers by 2024. How does that pan out for India needs to be seen, both in terms of attracting a huge chunk of Chinese travellers and making sure that India’s outbound potential is on a high too.

In December 2022, when China announced that inbound travel to the country will start from 8 January 2023 without a need to quarantine. The news was received in India with both happiness and fear, especially with China going through a nationwide wave of infections.

Big news Sharing his views on the situation, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt,

CEO, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) and CEO, Meaningful Tourism Center, said, “While this announceme­nt was huge, the fact that soon Chinese people will also be allowed to travel outbound again was big too. Already, from 8 January, 60,000 Chinese per day are allowed to travel to Hong Kong, which will be 1.8 million Chinese per month.”

What it means

He added, “That does not mean that next week there will be 10 million Chinese coming to Delhi. Firstly, they will have to get passports because China did not issue any passport in the last 1.5 years and many people don't have a valid passport anymore. Also, most countries have reduced staff in their consulates in China. Apart from that, we only have a few air connection­s, and tickets are very expensive. Airlines will also take around two months to get ready with the summer time-table and bring more connection­s. Then the prices will go down again.”


Prof. Arlt revealed, “Our forecast is that in the next three months, i.e. Q1 of 2023, you will see nonleisure travellers—business people, family reunions, students, or people going for health reasons— people who have urgent needs to travel. Then, in the second quarter when passports, visa and air connection­s are back to normal, huge number of Chinese will start travelling again. Thus, we forecast that for 2023, around 110-150 million border crossings will happen in total. That is about two-thirds of 2019 numbers. It will be more in second half of the year than in the first half. By 2024, if no unforeseen things happen, we will reach 2019 level and again China will become the biggest tourism source market in the world.”


While the numbers are promising, there are restrictio­ns on travel

across the world on people travelling from China. Commenting on the same, Prof. Arlt said, “If it’s only about doing a test before departure or after arrival, it won’t be a problem. If it’s a precaution, it is understand­able. This won’t stop Chinese or people from Singapore from travelling. There is a difference between people travelling from China and Chinese travellers. A German, an Indian or an American, coming from Shanghai, can bring the virus as much as any Chinese person. Thus, if everyone is tested without any racial discrimina­tion, it won’t be a big problem. According to trends on Chinese social media, Chinese people would get tested anyway for their own safety and peace of mind. Also, they understand that other countries must take some precaution­s. I believe that by April, when more tourists are travelling, especially leisure tourists, the big wave of COVID-19 in China will be over. Thus, latest by this summer testing will also stop.”


When asked how financiall­y strong the Chinese people would be to travel now, he explained. “When we talk about Chinese outbound travel, we must realise that it’s the top 10 per cent of the society. Thus, despite being able to sustain themselves financiall­y postCOVID, to have enough money to travel to India, or to Europe, or any far-away places, is a completely different matter. The rich people in China might be a bit less rich than before, especially because of low real estate market prices. However, they still have some thousand euros or dollars to spend on a trip to India, for example. Those who are moving socially upwards might have to wait a bit longer.”

When it comes to India, he shared, “For most Chinese, it’s not the firsttime outbound destinatio­n. Most of them travel to India for business or other reasons. Those who travel for leisure and sightseein­g are probably not first-time visitors. Thus, Chinese would still be able to afford internatio­nal travel, but will be a bit more careful with their money. However, for a trip to India, for example, there is still enough money.”

China’s loss, India’s gain?

While China was closed, the entire world was looking at India for outbound and all NTOs have been wooing Indians. Now, with China reopening, would the situation change? Prof. Arlt answered, “NTOs have already started sending messages on Chinese social media, welcoming back Chinese travellers. There will be more attention paid again to the Chinese market. However, we have learnt that it is dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket, as a lot of countries have relied heavily on Chinese visitors, like Thailand or Vietnam. Thus, it is a good idea to have more options. India is as big as China in terms of population, and hence it will not stop people to pay more attention to India.”

Challenges for China

Wolfgang also shared that the biggest challenge currently is for destinatio­ns, because they need to learn that the Chinese have changed. “The pandemic has changed the demand and expectatio­ns of the Chinese travellers. All the services sold at for future Chinese outbound tourists will not come in big package tours, but smaller groups or family groups. The interest in shopping is still there, but not so important anymore. Interest in culture, nature, outdoor activities, sustainabi­lity and green issues has increased. Also,

Chinese who have been travelling in the past want to find new destinatio­ns to go to,” he added.

Opportunit­y for India

It will be a huge opportunit­y for India, which has not seen that many leisure travellers before the pandemic from China, claimed Wolfgang. “The biggest challenge for the tourism industry in India is to come up with good products. Only sightseein­g is not enough and we did a survey for the Indian Tourism Ministry in 2019, which revealed that many Chinese tourists are not sure about the safety of travelling in India. However, many people are interested in art and music. One must develop products based on the knowledge about the market. Hence, music, art, dance, health (Ayurveda), are great segments for India. Unlike Western tourists, who stay in India for months, Chinese would want a clear program in advance for 5-7 days and every day should have many activities. There are good opportunit­ies, but you have to do something for it. It's not coming automatica­lly,” he said.

What India should do?

He claimed that China will reach its 2019-level of tourists next year, and to attract a fair share, India must do something to attract Chinese visitors. “It's not enough to say Incredible India and ask tourists to visit the country. MOTIndia must be more specific and convince people why should they come. If you can create programs for people interested in specific topics, like religion, architectu­re and cuisine, then there will be more people coming. How many travellers India would receive from China in future depends not only on what the Chinese people want, as currently India is not very high on the list of destinatio­ns they want to go to. On the other hand, India has many different things to offer and there's something for everybody in China. Thus, it also depends on how well India prepares and focuses on developing products suitable for different segments of the Chinese source market. India has advantages like the proximity to China and English-speaking population. The food is easy for the Chinese to accept. However, India must do something for it and it needs knowledge. We will be happy to support our colleagues in India,” he added.

In the second quarter when passports, visa and air connection­s are back to normal, huge number of Chinese will start travelling again

Potential segment

He also added that one market, which might be interestin­g for Chinese to visit India is education.

It's not enough to say Incredible India and ask tourists to visit the country. MOT-India must convince people why should they visit the country

“Thus, summer camps for Chinese kids or Chinese teenagers can be organised, as many parents in China are looking for other forms of education. Chinese government has reduced the number of English lessons in the school, and parents want for their kids to learn English. That could be a market. I don't think anybody in India has been thinking of this direction,” he claimed.

India outbound

While India is big on outbound today, Wolfgang added, “I think the world is still waiting for the big wave of Indian outbound travellers. We will also have the same challenge to give good products to Indian people, and we will have to make sure that the specific needs in terms of, for instance food, depending on the different religious groups, is taken good care of.”

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 ?? ?? Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt
CEO, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) and CEO, Meaningful Tourism Center
Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt CEO, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) and CEO, Meaningful Tourism Center
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