China will roll out a pilot programme next month to revive the country’s outbound group travel services, its Ministry of Culture and Tourism said on Friday, according to a report by Xinhua.
Travel agencies and online tourism service providers in China will be permitted to provide group tours to 20 countries from February 6, it said.
The countries that will benefit include Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Russia and Cuba.
Relevant airline ticket and hotel booking services will be resumed as well, the ministry said.
Thailand welcomed the news of China resuming group tours, with Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul saying it should benefit the local hotel sector and economy.
However, some health advocates were wary that these tours may bring visitors with Covid, given the massive wave still spreading in the northern neighbour.
Chinese tour agencies must follow Covid-19 control measures in countries where their customers visit, while Chinese visitors are being warned to get a Covid-19 test before leaving and pay attention to their health while travelling abroad, a government spokesperson told the Bangkok Post.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand now expects at least 5 million Chinese tourists to visit the country this year, including about 30,000 visitors due to arrive this week during the Lunar New Year break.
Outbound group travel market from China was halted in early 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, which saw the country implement a serious of tough restrictions and mass lockdown to limit the the spread of the disease.
The notorious ‘zero-Covid’ strategy was used to enforce lockdown in major economic centres such as Shanghai, Chengdu and many other cities.
But the policy became unpopular and spurred a series of large spontaneous protests in late November, which led to the government abruptly ending the measures in early December.
The sudden end to the policy led to a massive Covid wave that local and foreign health experts say has probably claimed more than half a million lives.
However, the dismantling of the zero-Covid policy and reopening of China’s borders has also boosted optimism that these moves will reinvigorate the Chinese economy, which saw economic growth of just 3% in 2022.
Investors poured $12.7 billion into emerging-market debt and equity funds in the week to Wednesday, following China’s move to ease its Covid restrictions, according to data on Friday from BofA Global Research.
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