CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) — A handful of Chinese tourists were taking pictures and sunbathing in the markets and squares near Chiang Mai’s ancient Thapae Gate this week. return.
Beaches and temples in destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai are the busiest since the pandemic hit three years ago, but are still relatively quiet.
Still, Chanathip Pansomboon, who sells soft drinks in the Chinatown district of Chiang Mai, a picturesque riverside city in northern Thailand, was optimistic. He believes it’s only a matter of time as the number of flights from China is steadily increasing.
“If many of them can come back, it will be great because they have purchasing power,” Chanathip said.
Anticipated reopening group tours from China could bring in far more visitors. For now, only the individual traveler can afford the travel expenses, and flights cost more than three times what they normally do for him.
This includes people like doctor Chen Zhao Zhao, who was taking pictures with children in front of the red brick wall of Thapae Gate.The virus surfaced in China in early 2020. .
“After three years of the pandemic and a harsh winter, now it’s open,” Chen said. “For us Chinese, the first option is to visit Chiang Mai. The weather is warm and the people here because he is very kind.”
In 2019, 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited Chiang Mai, generating 15 billion baht ($450 million) in tourism-related revenue, but as countries closed their borders to most travel, , which has lost significant revenue across the region.
Group tours are expected to resume from February 6, but the number of tourists coming will depend on the number of flights in operation, said Surada Sartirawan, director general of Thailand’s tourism office in Chiang Mai. She said she hopes to have around 500,000 to 600,000 Chinese visitors this year.
Of course, more Chinese want to visit, said Li Wei, a Shanghai businessman, when he visited the ancient wall with his extended family of seven.
“Visas and flights have not yet returned to normal, so there may be tourists within the next three months,” Li said.
In the far south, on the tropical Indonesian resort island of Bali, shops and restaurants adorned with celebratory red lanterns and red and gold envelopes used for Chinese New Year cash gifts were still relatively empty.
The first direct post-pandemic flight from China arrived in Bali on Sunday, where 210 tourists from the southern city of Shenzhen were greeted with marigold garlands and a dance performance.
“Before COVID, we worked with a travel agency dealing with Chinese tourists who brought in guests from China every day, but since we closed we have had far fewer guests,” says Jimbaran, Bali. Made Sutarma, owner of the district’s seafood restaurant, said.
After 3 long years with few customersNyoman Wisana, general manager of the 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, only a quarter of the 80 island tour operators serving mainly Chinese clients. It is not open for business, said Putu Winastra, president of the Bali Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies.
“We are actually very concerned about this,” he said.
Indonesia is developing programs to attract more Chinese tourists, including considering launching direct flights from major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, he said.
Those who visited this week appeared overjoyed after enduring months of strict pandemic controls that have put international travel out of reach for almost all Chinese.
“I haven’t been abroad or in Southeast Asia for vacation in the last three years, so it feels great.”
Closer to home, the casinos in Macau’s gambling enclave and popular tourist destinations in the former British colony of Hong Kong attracted more people than usual, but numbers were lower than before the outbreak of COVID-19. It was still empty compared to days. Hong Kong’s scenic Ocean Park and Kowloon Walled Wong Tai Sin Temple are usually popular with mainland Chinese tourists.
Leo Guo, who works in the travel industry, took his wife, daughter, sister and parents for a week filled with Hong Kong Disneyland, Victoria Peak, the skyline-dotted harbor and, of course, shopping.
“For mainland Chinese, Hong Kong is a special city, different from other Chinese cities,” Lee said. “It’s the perfect destination for us.”
Further afield in Australia, Sydney-based travel agent Eric Wang said that despite Chinese airlines ramping up flights, high travel costs still keep Chinese people away. Said I could see it.
The Chinese accounted for almost a third of all Australian tourism spending pre-pandemic, with more than 1.4 million visitors in 2019. Australia, along with Japan, the United States and several other countries, require a visitor from China to undergo her COVID-19 test in advance. Departure. But Wang, who works at his CBT Holidays, which specializes in travel to and from China, said he doesn’t see it as a serious obstacle.
“It’s an airline problem because flights haven’t returned to normal frequency yet, and airfares are about five times higher,” he said.
Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok. Sigit Purwono, Bali, Indonesia; Rod McGurk, Canberra, Australia; Alice Fong, Hong Kong; and Edna Tarrigan, Jakarta, Indonesia contributed to this report.
For AP’s Asia Pacific coverage, please visit https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific.