China Travel Restrictions & Travel Advisory (Updated June 17, 2024)

Visa-Free Access to China : If you're from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, and Poland, you can visit China visa-free for 15 days until December 31st, 2025. If you're from Singapore, you can relish visa-free access to China for up to 30 days.  New Zealand and Australia will also be added to China's 15-day visa-free list from July 1, 2024, to December 31, 2025.

If your nationality isn't listed above or if you aim to discover China for more than two weeks, we offer a Port Visa Service for just US$50 per person (valid until June 30th, 2024) once your tour booking is confirmed with us. No stress of embassy visits and visa interviews.

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  • What Ways to Enter China
  • Do I Still Need a PCR Test to Enter China
  • Hong Kong/Macau Travel Restriction

International Flights to China

What to expect when traveling in china, best times to travel to china, 8 ways to enter china: all open now.

Since China has fully permitted visa applications, there are now several ways to enter the country.

If you still hold a valid Chinese visa (any type including a tourist visa, 10-year visa, a port visa, etc.), you can use it to enter China.

If you don't have a Chinese visa or your visa has expired, you can apply for a new one. All visas can now be applied for, including tourist visas, business visas, work visas, and so on. (International visitors can apply for a tourist visa to the Chinese Mainland in Hong Kong.)

For the documents required for a visa application, you can refer to the information given by a Chinese embassy/consulate . Please submit your application at least two months in advance.

To apply for a tourist visa (L visa), you will be asked to provide an invitation letter issued by a Chinese travel agency or individual or round-trip air tickets and hotel bookings.

When booking a private tour with us, we can provide you with an invitation letter, which is one more thing we do to make your travel more convenient, giving you more flexibility with your air tickets and hotel bookings.

Now it is very easy to apply for a visa . You can easily apply by yourself without an intermediary. The following is how one of our clients successfully applied for a Chinese tourist visa:

  • First, fill out the form at the China Online Visa Application website ;
  • Second, make an appointment on this website to submit your visa materials on Appointment for Visa Application Submission website ;
  • Third, take the required documents to the embassy to submit;
  • Finally, you will get a return receipt if your documents are qualified.

Usually, you will get your visa after 7 working days. The application fee is about USD185 for US citizens.

Q: What if my passport expires but my visa doesn't?

A: You can travel to China on the expired passport containing valid Chinese visa in combination with the new passport, provided that the identity information (name, date of birth, gender, nationality) on both passport identical.

If there is a change to any of the above details, you must apply for a new visa.

2. 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit Policy

If you do not apply for a Chinese visa, you may still have the opportunity to visit these areas of China visa free: the Shanghai area (including Suzhou, Hangzhou, etc.), the Beijing area (with Tianjin and Hebei), the Guangzhou area (Shenzhen, Zhuhai, etc.), and more. Take advantage of the 6-day visa-free entitlements.

Find out if you could use the 144-hour visa-free transit policy with our information on China's 144-hour Visa-Free Policy (Eligible Entry/Exit Ports, Applicable Countries, Documents to be Prepared...)

You can also obtain entry and exit control policies through the 24-hour hotline of the National Immigration Administration:

  • Beijing: 0086 (+86)-10-12367
  • Shanghai: 0086 (+86)-21-12367
  • Guangzhou: 0086 (+86)-20-12367

Quick Test: Will My Route Qualify for China 72/144-Hour Visa-Free Transit?

1. I will depart from (only applies to direct or connected flight):

2. I will arrive in China at [city], [airport / railway station / port].

3. My arrival date is...

4. I will leave for [country/region] from China (the bounding destination on the air ticket):

5. My departure date is...

6. My nationality is...

8. I have Chinese visa refusal stamps in my passport.

You qualify to enjoy China's 72-hour visa-free policy.

You qualify to enjoy China's 144-hour visa-free policy.

You don't qualify to enjoy China's 72-hour or 144-hour visa-free policy.

Reason you don't qualify:

  • You must be in transit to a third country or region.
  • You must leave the city area (prefecture or municipality) after the 72/144 hours (the 72/144-hour limit is calculated starting from 00:00 on the day after arrival, i.e. 24:00 on the arrival date).
  • Your passport must be valid for more than 3 months at the time of entry into China.
  • Your passport nationality is not eligible for the 72/144-hour visa exemption program.
  • You have Chinese visa refusal stamps in your passport.

3. Port Visas (Landing Visas)

If you don't have time to get a visa, or if you find it cumbersome to apply for a tourist visa, you could consider traveling to China through a port visa.

Port visas can be applied for a group at least including 2 people. You need to enter the country within 15 days after you get your entry permit. The port visa allows a stay period of 1 to 2 months.

Applicable ports include Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Guilin, Xi'an, Chengdu, etc.

Note: Tourists from America are not granted a port visa in Shanghai.

Book your China trip with us and we can help you apply for a port visa.

4. Visa Exemption for ASEAN Tour Groups to Guilin

In addition, tour groups from ASEAN member countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Myanmar, Brunei, and the Philippines, can visit Guilin for 144 hours without visas as long as they meet the visa-free transit policy requirements.

5. Shanghai Visa-Free Policy for Cruise Groups

Shanghai has a 15-day visa-free policy for foreign tourist groups entering China via a cruise. You must arrive and depart on the same cruise and be received by a Chinese travel agent at the Shanghai Cruise Terminal (or Wusong Passenger Center).

6. Hainan Visa-Free Access

No visa is required for staying on Hainan Island for up to 30 days for ordinary passport holders from 59 countries. Groups and individual tourists must book a tour through an accredited travel agency.

Find out whether you qualify for the policy here .

7. Visa Exemption for the Pearl River Delta Area

International travelers from Hong Kong or Macau are able to visit the Pearl River Delta area (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, etc.) visa-free as long as they go with a registered tour provider, such as us.

8. APEC Cards

If you hold a valid APEC business travel card, you can simply enter China with the card without applying for a visa.

Travelers who hold a valid APEC business travel card can stay in China for up to 60 days.

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Do I Still Need a PCR Test or Antigen Self-Test to Enter China

No. Starting from August 30, all travelers entering China will no longer need to undergo any COVID-19 testing. You do not need to submit any test results for COVID-19 before departure.

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Hong Kong / Macau Travel Restriction

Hong kong entry requirements.

Travelers from any region bound for Hong Kong will no longer need to take pre-flight COVID-19 tests (no PCR test, no RAT test) from April 1.

There is also no need for any tests when traveling from Hong Kong to the Chinese Mainland. Hong Kong could be a good gateway for your China trip. See suggestions on China Itineraries from Hong Kong (from 1 Week to 3 Weeks).

Direct high-speed trains from Guangzhou and Shenzhen to Hong Kong are available now. In preparation for the Canton Fair, it is expected that direct high-speed ferries will be launched from Guangzhou Pazhou Port to Hong Kong's airport in mid-April.

  • 10 Top China Tours from Hong Kong

Macau Entry Requirement

From August 30, travelers from any region bound for Macau will no longer need to take pre-flight COVID-19 tests (no PCR test, no RAT test).

There is also no need for any tests when traveling from Macau to the Chinese Mainland.

Inbound and outbound international flights in the week beginning March 6th rose by more than 350% compared with a year earlier, to nearly 2,500 flights, according to Chinese flight tracking data from APP Flight Master.

At present, there are one or two direct flights a week from New York to Shanghai, Los Angeles to Beijing, Seattle to Shanghai, London to Guangzhou, etc.

There are also many flight options with stopovers that are more frequent and affordable. Testing at transit airports is now not required!

The Coronavirus outbreak in China has subsided. China looks like it did in 2019 again. No special measures (like PCR tests or health codes) are required when traveling around China. All attractions are open as normal.

Wearing a mask is not mandatory when traveling. In hotels, masks are off for the most part. But in some crowded places, such as airports or subway stations, many people still wear masks.

Weather-wise, the best times to visit China are spring (April–May) and autumn (September–October), when most of the popular places have their most tourism-friendly weather, except for the "golden weeks" — the first week of May and of October — when most attractions are flooded with Chinese tourists.

If you are looking for smaller crowds, favorable prices, and still good weather, you should consider March and April or September.

Tourism in cultural and historical destinations like Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an is hardly affected by weather conditions. They are suitable to be visited all year round.

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Tour China with Us

We've been building our team for over 20 years. Even over the past three years we have continued, serving over 10,000 expats with China tours and getting a lot of praise (see TripAdvisor ).

We are based in China and can show you the characteristics and charm of China from a unique perspective. Just contact us to create your China trip .

Our consultants will listen to and answer your inquiries carefully and prepare the best plan for you.

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China Fully Reopens to Travelers After Three Years of Closures

Hoping to boost its tourism industry, the country is now issuing all types of visas

Sarah Kuta

Daily Correspondent

Travelers at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai getting their temperatures taken

After three years of closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, China is fully reopening its borders to visitors.

The nation is now issuing visas of all types. It is also resuming visa-free entry for destinations that did not require visas before the pandemic, such as Hainan island and cruise ships in Shanghai . Tourists with unexpired multi-year visas issued before March 28, 2020 are also able to enter.

China’s foreign ministry announced the full reopening in a  statement posted online last week. The announcement didn’t say whether the government will require travelers to provide vaccination cards or negative Covid-19 tests to enter the country.

Since the pandemic, China has been one of the last major countries to fully reopen, according to the  Associated Press ’ Zen Soo. The nation had implemented strict zero-Covid policies that involved daily testing and sudden lockdowns that eventually led to  rare pushback from residents.

In December, Chinese leaders  began easing the harsh rules, going on to drop quarantine requirements for international travelers in January. In February, the government declared it had  achieved victory over the virus.

How many Covid-19 cases—and deaths—have occurred in China remains unclear, as the World Health Organization argues that the country  has been underrepresenting the virus’ true toll.

In the near future, travel industry experts don't anticipate that large numbers of tourists will begin flooding into China, or that increased tourism will help the country’s economy in a significant way. As Reuters ’ Joe Cash and Sophie Yu report, tourism made up less than 1 percent of China’s gross domestic product in 2019.

China’s tourism businesses will also face challenges amid the reopening, as they must now rehire the millions of employees they laid off during the pandemic.

“We are not prepared to serve a rising number of tourists since we are short of employees,” says Zheng Honggang, CEO of Shanghai-based Kate Travel, to the  South China Morning Post ’s Daniel Ren. “The pace of recovery will turn out to be slow.”

Travel to China from the United States may also be slow to rebound due to increasingly  strained relations between the two nations. In a March 10 travel advisory , the U.S. State Department encouraged citizens to reconsider travel to China, citing “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” and a “risk of wrongful detentions.” Those who do decide to visit should keep a low profile, stay away from demonstrations and avoid taking photographs of police or protesters without permission, the State Department warned.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong—which is a special administrative region in China—is also trying to find innovative strategies to boost its travel industry, which had been in decline since before the pandemic. Last month, the government announced that it will be giving away  500,000 free flights over the course of several months.

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Sarah Kuta

Sarah Kuta | READ MORE

Sarah Kuta is a writer and editor based in Longmont, Colorado. She covers history, science, travel, food and beverage, sustainability, economics and other topics.

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China Travel Advisory

Travel advisory april 12, 2024, mainland china, hong kong & macau - see summaries.

Updated due to new national security legislation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Summary:  Reconsider travel to Mainland China due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions.

Exercise increased caution when traveling to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws .

Reconsider travel to the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) due to a limited ability to provide emergency consular services . Exercise increased caution when traveling to the Macau SAR due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws .

See specific risks and conditions in each jurisdiction . 

Mainland China – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Reconsider travel due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws , including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions .

Summary:  The People’s Republic of China (PRC) government arbitrarily enforces local laws, including issuing exit bans on U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries, without fair and transparent process under the law.

The Department of State has determined the risk of wrongful detention of U.S. nationals by the PRC government exists in the PRC.

U.S. citizens traveling or residing in the PRC may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens in the PRC may be subjected to interrogations and detention without fair and transparent treatment under the law.

Foreigners in the PRC, including but not limited to businesspeople, former foreign-government personnel, academics, relatives of PRC citizens involved in legal disputes, and journalists have been interrogated and detained by PRC officials for alleged violations of PRC national security laws. The PRC has also interrogated, detained, and expelled U.S. citizens living and working in the PRC.

PRC authorities appear to have broad discretion to deem a wide range of documents, data, statistics, or materials as state secrets and to detain and prosecute foreign nationals for alleged espionage. There is increased official scrutiny of U.S. and third-country firms, such as professional service and due diligence companies, operating in the PRC. Security personnel could detain U.S. citizens or subject them to prosecution for conducting research or accessing publicly available material inside the PRC.

Security personnel could detain and/or deport U.S. citizens for sending private electronic messages critical of the PRC, Hong Kong SAR, or Macau SAR governments.

In addition, the PRC government has used restrictions on travel or departure from the PRC, or so-called exit bans, to:

  • compel individuals to participate in PRC government investigations;
  • pressure family members of the restricted individual to return to the PRC from abroad;
  • resolve civil disputes in favor of PRC citizens; and
  • gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments.

U.S. citizens might only become aware of an exit ban when they attempt to depart the PRC, and there may be no available legal process to contest an exit ban in a court of law. Relatives, including minor children, of those under investigation in the PRC may become subject to an exit ban.

The PRC government does not recognize dual nationality. Dual U.S.-PRC citizens and U.S. citizens of Chinese descent may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment. If you are a U.S. citizen and choose to enter Mainland China on travel documents other than a U.S. passport and are detained or arrested, the PRC government may not notify the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulates General or allow consular access.

Check with the PRC Embassy in the United States for the most updated information on travel to the PRC. In some limited circumstances travelers to Mainland China may face additional COVID-19 testing requirements to enter some facilities or events.

The Department of State does not provide or coordinate direct medical care to private U.S. citizens abroad. U.S. citizens overseas may receive PRC-approved COVID-19 vaccine doses where they are eligible.

Do not consume drugs in the PRC or prior to arriving in the PRC. A positive drug test, even if the drug was legal elsewhere, can lead to immediate detention, fines, deportation, and/or a ban from re-entering the PRC. PRC authorities may compel cooperation with blood, urine, or hair testing. Penalties for drug offense may exceed penalties imposed in the United States.

Demonstrations : Participating in demonstrations or any other activities that authorities interpret as constituting an act of secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with a foreign country could result in criminal charges. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid demonstrations.

XINJIANG UYGHUR AUTONOMOUS REGION, TIBET AUTONOMOUS REGION, and TIBETAN AUTONOMOUS PREFECTURES

Extra security measures, such as security checks and increased levels of police presence and surveillance, are common in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Tibet Autonomous Region, and Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures. Authorities may impose curfews and travel restrictions on short notice.

If you decide to travel to Mainland China:

  • Enter the PRC on your U.S. passport with a valid PRC visa and keep it with you.
  • Read the travel information page for Mainland China .
  • Enroll in the  Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)  to receive alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Avoid demonstrations.
  • Exercise caution in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests.
  • Avoid taking photographs of protesters or police without permission.
  • Keep a low profile.
  • If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify U.S. Embassy Beijing or the nearest U.S. Consulate General immediately.
  • Review the  China Country Security Report  from the Overseas Security Advisory Council.
  • Do not consume drugs in the PRC or prior to arriving in the PRC.
  • Follow the Department of State on  Facebook  and  Twitter . Follow U.S. Embassy Beijing on  Twitter ,  WeChat , and  Weibo .
  • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page for the latest  Travel Health Information  related to the PRC.
  • Prepare a contingency plan for emergency situations.
  • Review the Traveler’s Checklist .

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) – Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution

Exercise increased caution due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws .

Summary: Hong Kong SAR authorities have dramatically restricted civil liberties since the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) imposed the Law of the PRC on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR on June 30, 2020. Following the Hong Kong SAR government’s enactment of its own Safeguarding National Security Ordinance on March 23, 2024, Hong Kong SAR authorities are expected to take additional actions to further restrict civil liberties.

The 2020 National Security Law outlines a broad range of vaguely defined offenses, such as acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign entities. The 2024 Safeguarding National Security Ordinance builds on this framework with additional vaguely defined offenses, such as treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets, sabotage against public infrastructure, and external interference. According to the legislation, these offenses are applicable to foreign nationals within the Hong Kong SAR and to individuals, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents, located outside its borders. Under these provisions, anyone who criticizes the PRC and/or Hong Kong SAR authorities may face arrest, detention, expulsion, and/or prosecution. Hong Kong SAR authorities are attempting to enforce these provisions against individuals, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents, residing outside of their jurisdiction by offering cash rewards for information leading to their arrests in the Hong Kong SAR.

Dual Nationality: The Hong Kong SAR government does not recognize dual nationality. Dual U.S.-PRC citizens and U.S. citizens of Chinese descent may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment. If you are a dual U.S.-PRC citizen and enter Hong Kong SAR on a U.S. passport, and you are detained or arrested, PRC authorities are under an obligation to notify the U.S. Embassy or a U.S. Consulate General of your detention and to allow U.S. consular officials to have access to you. In practice, however, U.S. consular officers may be prevented from providing consular assistance, even to those who have entered on their U.S. passports. For more information, visit Consular Protection and Right of Abode in HK(SAR) for Dual Nationals - U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau .

Demonstrations : Participating in demonstrations or any other activities that authorities interpret as constituting an act of secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with a foreign country could result in criminal charges under the 2020 National Security Law and/or the 2024 Safeguarding National Security Ordinance. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid demonstrations.

If you decide to travel to the Hong Kong SAR:

  • Enter the Hong Kong SAR on your U.S. passport and keep it with you.
  • Read the travel information page for the Hong Kong SAR .
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau immediately.
  • Review the China Country Security Report from the Overseas Security Advisory Council.
  • Do not consume drugs in the Hong Kong SAR or prior to arriving in the Hong Kong SAR.
  • Follow the Department of State on  Facebook  and  Twitter . Follow U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau on  Facebook  and  Twitter .
  • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page for the latest  Travel Health Information  related to the Hong Kong SAR.
  • Monitor local media, local transportations sites, and apps like  MTR Mobile  or  Citybus  for updates.

Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Reconsider travel due to a limited ability to provide emergency consular services. Exercise increased caution due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws.

Summary:  The U.S. government has a limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Macau SAR due to People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of Foreign Affairs travel restrictions on U.S. diplomatic personnel.

Even in an emergency, the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires all U.S. diplomatic personnel, including those accredited to the Macau SAR, to apply for and receive visas before entering the Macau SAR. Approval takes at least five to seven days, significantly limiting the U.S. government’s ability to offer timely consular services in the Macau SAR.

Dual Nationality: The Macau SAR government does not recognize dual nationality. Dual U.S.-PRC citizens and U.S. citizens of Chinese descent may be subject to additional scrutiny and harassment. If you are a dual U.S.-PRC citizen and enter the Macau SAR on a U.S. passport, and you are detained or arrested, PRC authorities are under an obligation to notify the U.S. Embassy or a U.S. Consulate General of your detention and to allow U.S. consular officials to have access to you. In practice, however, U.S. consular officers may be prevented from providing consular assistance, even to those who have entered on their U.S. passports. For more information, visit Consular Protection and Right of Abode in HK(SAR) for Dual Nationals - U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau .

Demonstrations : Participating in demonstrations or any other activities that authorities interpret as constituting an act of secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with a foreign country could result in criminal charges. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid demonstrations.

If you decide to travel to the Macau SAR:

  • Enter the Macau SAR on your U.S. passport and keep it with you.
  • Read the travel information page for the Macau SAR .
  • If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify Review the China Country Security Report from the Overseas Security Advisory Council.
  • Do not consume drugs in the Macau SAR or prior to arriving in the Macau SAR.
  • Follow the Department of State on  Facebook  and  Twitter . Follow U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau on  Facebook  and  Twitter .
  • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page for the latest  Travel Health Information  related to the Macau SAR.
  • Monitor local media and the Macau Government Tourism Office website for updates.
  • Review your flight status with your airline or at the Macau International Airport website.

Travel Advisory Levels

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Outlook for China tourism 2023: Light at the end of the tunnel

China is now removing travel restrictions rapidly, both domestically and internationally. While the sudden opening may lead to uncertainty and hesitancy to travel in the short term, Chinese tourists still express a strong desire to travel. And the recent removal of quarantine requirements in January 2023 could usher in a renewed demand for trips abroad.

Domestically, there are already signs of strong travel recovery. The recent Chinese New Year holidays saw 308 million domestic trips, generating almost RMB 376 billion in tourism revenue. 1 China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This upswing indicates that domestic travel volume has recovered to 90 percent of 2019 figures, and spending has bounced back to around 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels. 2 McKinsey analysis based on China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism data.

This article paints a picture of Chinese travelers and their evolving spending behaviors and preferences—and suggests measures that tourism service providers and destinations could take to prepare for their imminent return. The analyses draw on the findings of McKinsey’s latest Survey of Chinese Tourist Attitudes, and compare the results across six waves of surveys conducted between April 2020 and November 2022, along with consumer sentiment research and recent travel data.

From pandemic to endemic

By January 8, 2023, cross-city travel restrictions, border closures, and quarantine requirements on international arrivals to China had been lifted. 3 “Graphics: China’s 20 new measures for optimizing COVID-19 response,” CGTN, November 15, 2022; “COVID-19 response further optimized with 10 new measures,” China Services Info, December 8, 2022; “China reopens borders in final farewell to zero-COVID,” Reuters, January 8, 2023. This rapid removal of domestic travel restrictions, and an increase in COVID-19 infection rates, likely knocked travel confidence for cross-city and within-city trips. Right after the first easing of measures, in-city transport saw a marked drop as people stayed home—either because they were ill, or to avoid exposure. Subway traffic in ten major cities in mainland China fell and then spiked during Chinese New Year in February. Hotel room bookings also peaked at this time.

Domestic airline seat capacity experienced a minor rebound as each set of restrictions was lifted—suggesting a rise in demand as airlines scheduled more flights. Domestic capacity fluctuated, possibly due to the accelerated COVID-19 infection rate and a temporary labor shortage. International seat capacity, however, continued to climb (Exhibit 1).

By Chinese new year, China was past its infection peak—and domestic tourism recovered strongly. For instance, Hainan drew 6.4 million visitors over Chinese New Year (up from 5.8 million in 2019) and visits to Shanghai reached 10 million (roughly double 2019 holiday figures). 4 China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Overall, revenue per available room (RevPAR) during this period recovered and surpassed pre-pandemic levels, at 120 percent of 2019 figures. 5 STR data. Outbound trips are still limited, but given the pent-up demand for international travel (and the upswing in domestic tourism) the tourism industry may need to prepare to welcome back Chinese tourists.

Tourism players should be ready for this; the time to act is now.

A demand boom is around the corner—Chinese tourists are returning soon

Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were eager travelers. Mainland China had the largest outbound travel market in the world, both in number of trips and total spend. 6 World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Tourism dashboard, Outbound tourism ranking. In 2019, Mainland Chinese tourists took 155 million outbound trips, totaling $255 billion in travel spending. 7 China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. These figures indicate total outbound trips, including to Hong Kong and Macau. China is also an important source market for some major destinations. For instance, Chinese travelers made up 28 percent of inbound tourism in Thailand, 30 percent in Japan, and 16 percent of non-EU visitors to Germany. 8 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) database.

Leisure travel was the biggest driver of China’s outbound travel, representing 65 percent of travelers in 2019. In the same year, 29 percent of travelers ventured out for business, and 6 percent journeyed to visit friends and relatives. 9 Euromonitor International database.

Our most recent Survey of Chinese Tourist Attitudes, conducted in November 2022, shows that Chinese tourists have retained their keen desire to explore international destinations. About 40 percent of respondents reported that they expect to undertake outbound travel for their next leisure trip.

Where do these travelers want to go?

The results also indicate that the top three overseas travel destinations (beyond Hong Kong and Macau) are Australia/New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and Japan. Overall, respondents show less interest in travel to Europe than in previous years, down from 7 percent to 4 percent compared to wave 5 respondents. Desire to embark on long-haul international trips to Australia/New Zealand increased from 5 percent to 7 percent, and North American trips from 3 percent to 4 percent since the last survey. The wealthier segment (monthly household income over RMB 38,000) still shows a high interest in EU destinations (13 percent).

There are stumbling blocks on the road to recovery

While travel sentiment is strong, other factors may deter travelers from taking to the skies: fear of COVID-19; the need for COVID-19 testing which can be expensive; ticket prices; risk appetite of destination countries; and getting a passport or visa.

Chinese travelers may favor domestic trips, even if all outbound travel restrictions are removed, until they feel it is safe to travel internationally. A COVID-19-safe environment in destination countries will likely boost travelers’ confidence and encourage them to book trips again. 10 “Long-haul travel barometer,” European Travel Commission, February 1, 2023.

Travel recovery is also dependent on airline capacity. Some international airlines might be slow to restore capacity as fleets were retired during COVID-19 and airlines face a shortage of crew, particularly pilots. Considering that at the time of writing, in April 2023, international airline seat capacity has only recovered to around 37 percent of pre-pandemic levels, travelers are likely to face elevated ticket prices in the coming months. For instance, ticket prices for travel in the upcoming holidays to popular overseas destinations such as Japan and Thailand are double what they were in 2019. 11 Based on Ctrip prices. Price-sensitive travelers might wait for ticket prices to level out before booking their overseas trips.

Chinese airlines, however, appear more ready to resume full service than their international counterparts —fewer pilots left the industry and aircraft are available. Chinese carriers’ widebody fleets are mostly in service or ready to be redeployed (Exhibit 2).

Moving forward, safety measures in destination countries will affect travel recovery. Most countries have dropped testing requirements on arrivals from mainland China, and Chinese outbound group travel has resumed but is still limited to selected countries.

Many Chinese travelers—maybe 20 percent—have had passports expire during the COVID-19 period, and China has not been renewing these passports. Renewals are now possible, but the backlog will slow travel’s rebound by a few months. 12 Steve Saxon, “ What to expect from China’s travel rebound ,” McKinsey, January 25, 2023. Furthermore, travel visas for destination countries can take some time to be processed and issued.

Taken together, these factors suggest that the returning wave of Chinese travelers may only gather momentum by the Summer of 2023 and that China’s travel recovery will likely lag Hong Kong’s by a few months.

Overall, China is opening up to travel, both inbound and outbound—all types of visas are being issued to foreign visitors, and locals are getting ready to travel abroad. 13 “China to resume issuing all types of visas for foreigners,” China Briefing, March 14, 2023.

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The returning chinese traveler is evolving.

Although Chinese travelers did not have opportunities to travel internationally over the past three years, they continued to travel domestically and explore new offerings. Annual domestic trips remained at around 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, amounting to 8.7 billion domestic trips over the past three years. 14 China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. During this time, the domestic market matured, and travelers became more sophisticated as they tried new leisure experiences such as beach resorts, skiing trips, and “staycations” in home cities. Chinese travelers became more experienced as thanks to periods of low COVID-19 infection rates domestically they explored China’s vast geography and diverse experiences on offer.

Consequently, the post-COVID-19 Chinese traveler is even more digitally savvy, has high expectations, and seeks novel experiences. These are some of the characteristics of a typical traveler:

  • Experience-oriented: Wave 6 of the survey shows that the rebound tourist is planning their trip around experiences. Outdoor and scenic trips remain the most popular travel theme. In survey waves 1 to 3, sightseeing and “foodie” experiences were high on the list of preferences while traveling. From waves 4 to 6, culture and history, beaches and resorts, and health and wellness gained more attention—solidifying the trend for experience-driven travel. Additionally, possibly due to the hype of the Winter Olympics, skiing and snowboarding have become popular activities.
  • Hyper-digitized: While digitization is a global trend, Chinese consumers are some of the most digitally savvy in the world; mobile technologies and social media are at the core of daily life. COVID-19 drove people to spend more time online—now short-form videos and livestreaming have become the top online entertainment options in China. In the first half of 2022, Chinese consumers spent 30 percent of their mobile internet time engaging with short videos. 15 “In the first half of the year, the number of mobile netizens increased, and short videos accounted for nearly 30% of the total time spent online,” Chinadaily.com, 27 July 2022.
  • Exploration enthusiasts: Chinese travelers are also keen to explore the world and embark on novel experiences in unfamiliar destinations. Survey respondents were looking forward to visiting new attractions, even when travel policies limited their travel radius. Instead of revisiting destinations, 45 percent of respondents picked short trips to new sites as their number one choice, followed by long trips to new sites as their second choice.

Consumers are optimistic, and travel spending remains resilient

McKinsey’s 2022 research on Chinese consumer sentiment shows that although economic optimism is seeing a global decline, 49 percent of Chinese respondents reported that they are optimistic about their country’s economic recovery. Optimism had dropped by 6 percentage points since an earlier iteration of the survey, but Chinese consumers continue to be more optimistic than other surveyed countries, apart from India (80 percent optimistic) and Indonesia (73 percent optimistic) (Exhibit 3). 16 “ Survey: Chinese consumer sentiment during the coronavirus crisis ,” McKinsey, October 13, 2022.

Chinese consumers are still keen to spend on travel, and travel spending is expected to be resilient. Wave 6 of the tourist attitude survey saw 87 percent of respondents claiming that they will spend more or maintain their level of travel spending. Moreover, when consumers were asked “which categories do you intend to splurge/treat yourself to,” travel ranked second, with 29 percent of respondents preferring travel over other categories. 17 “ Survey: Chinese consumer sentiment during the coronavirus crisis ,” McKinsey, October 13, 2022.

Against this context of consumer optimism, the wave 6 tourist attitude survey results shed light on how travelers plan to spend, and which segments are likely to spend more than others:

  • The wealthier segment and older age groups (age 45-65) show the most resilience in terms of travel spend. Around 45 to 50 percent of travelers in these two groups will spend more on their next leisure trip.
  • The wealthier segment has shown the most interest in beach and resort trips (48 percent). Instead of celebrating Chinese New Year at home with family, 30 percent of Chinese travelers in the senior age group (age 55-65) expect to take their next leisure trip during this holiday—10 percent more than the total average. And the top three trip preferences for senior travelers are culture, sightseeing, and health-themed trips.
  • When it comes to where travelers plan to spend their money on their next trip, entertainment activities, food, and shopping are the most popular categories. These are also the most flexible and variable spending categories, and there are opportunities to up-sell—attractions, food and beverage, and retail players are well positioned to create unique and unexpected offerings to stimulate spending in this area (Exhibit 4).

Independent accommodation is gaining popularity

Overall, Chinese consumers have high expectations for products and services. McKinsey’s 2023 consumer report found that local brands are on the rise and consumers are choosing local products for their quality, not just for their cheaper prices. Chinese consumers are becoming savvier, and tap into online resources and social media to educate themselves about the specific details and features of product offerings. 18 Daniel Zipser, Daniel Hui, Jia Zhou, and Cherie Zhang, 2023 McKinsey China Consumer Report , McKinsey, December 2022.

Furthermore, 49 percent of Chinese consumers believe that domestic brands are of “better quality” than foreign brands—only 23 percent believe the converse is true. Functionality extended its lead as the most important criterion influencing Chinese consumers, indicating that consumers are focusing more on the functional aspects of products, and less on emotional factors. Branding thus has less influence on purchasing decisions. 19 Daniel Zipser, Daniel Hui, Jia Zhou, and Cherie Zhang, 2023 McKinsey China Consumer Report , McKinsey, December 2022.

These broader consumer sentiments are echoed in the travel sector. Chinese travelers pay attention to cost, but do not simply seek out the lowest prices. While 17 percent of wave 6 respondents are concerned about low prices, 33 percent are on the hunt for value-for-money offerings, and 30 percent prefer good discounts and worthwhile deals.

And consumer sentiment regarding local brands holds true for travel preferences. Independent travel accommodation continues to be the preferred choice for most respondents, increasing in share against international chain brand hotels (Exhibit 5). Almost 60 percent of respondents prefer independent accommodation such as boutique hotels, B&Bs, and Airbnb—an 8 percentage-point increase since 2020.

Local chain brand hotels remain stable, the favored accommodation for 20 percent of respondents. These hotels are seen as a more standardized option, and as most are located in urban areas, they target the budget traveler segment.

Opting for independent accommodation is not considered a trade down; Chinese travelers expect a high level of service. In particular, respondents in the wealthier segment picked independent options (57 percent) over international premium brands (27 percent).

Premium independent options for the wealthier segment are abundant, specifically in leisure travel. Setting up a premium brand hotel requires long-term construction periods and heavy capital investment. Small-scale boutique hotels or B&Bs, on the other hand, are more agile solutions that can ramp up in the short term. This may explain the abundance of premium independent offerings. For instance, in destinations such as Lijiang and Yangshuo, between seven and nine of the top-ten premium hotels listed on Ctrip are independent boutique hotels.

Premium independent accommodation’s strength lies in quality guest experience with a genuine human touch. The service level at premium independent establishments can even surpass that of chain brand accommodation thanks to the high staff-to-room ratio, which easily reaches 3:1 or even 5:1. 20 “Strategic marketing analysis of boutique hotels,” Travel Daily , June 3, 2015. For hotels in Xiamen, Lijiang, and Yangshou, Ctrip service ratings of premium independent hotels are all above 4.7, outperforming international chain brand hotels.

Travelers are becoming smarter and more realistic during hotel selection, focusing on fundamental offerings such as local features and value for money. Across all types of hotels, local features are one of the most important factors influencing hotel selection—even for chain brand hotels which have a reputation for mastering the standardized offering. On average, 34 percent of respondents report that local features and cultural elements are the key considerations affecting their choice of hotel.

Outbound Chinese tourists are evolving rapidly, becoming increasingly diverse in their travel preferences, behaviors, and spending patterns. Chinese travelers are not homogeneous, and their needs and preferences continue to evolve. Therefore, serving each group of tourists may require different product offerings, sales channels, or marketing techniques.

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The path toward eco-friendly travel in China

How international travel and tourism can attract outbound chinese travelers.

China’s lifting of travel restrictions may cause some uncertainty in the short term, but a promising recovery lies ahead. Chinese tourists have maintained a strong desire to travel internationally and are willing to pay for this experience. They are also discerning and looking for high-quality accommodation, offerings, and service. As boutique hotels are becoming more popular, international hotel brands hotels could, for example, aim to stand out by leveraging their experience in service excellence.

With renewed travel demand, now may be the time for international travel and tourism businesses to invest in polishing product offerings—on an infrastructural and service level. Tourism, food and beverage, retail, and entertainment providers can start preparing for the rebound by providing unique and innovative experiences that entice the adventurous Chinese traveler.

Craft an authentically local offering that appeals to experience-driven Chinese travelers

Chinese travelers have suspended overseas trips for three years, and are now looking to enjoy high-quality experiences in destinations they have been to before. They also want to do more than shopping and sightseeing, and have expressed willingness to spend on offerings geared towards entertainment and experience. This includes activities like theme parks, snow sports, water sports, shows, and cultural activities. Authentic experiences can satisfy their desire for an immersive foreign experience, but they often want the experience to be familiar and accessible.

Designing the right product means tapping into deep customer insights to craft offerings that are accessible for Chinese travelers, within a comfortable and familiar setting, yet are still authentic and exciting.

Travel and tourism providers may also have opportunities to up-sell or cross-sell experiences and entertainment offerings.

Social media is essential

Social media is emerging as one of the most important sources of inspiration for travel. Short video now is a major influence channel across all age groups and types of consumers.

Tourist destinations have begun to leverage social media, and short video campaigns, to maximize exposure. For example, Tourism Australia recently launched a video campaign with a kangaroo character on TikTok, and overall views soon reached around 1.67 billion.

The story of Ding Zhen, a young herder from a village in Sichuan province, illustrates the power of online video in China. In 2020, a seven-second video of Ding Zhen turned him into an overnight media sensation. Soon after, he was approached to become a tourism ambassador for Litang county in Sichuan—and local tourism flourished. 21 “Tibetan herder goes viral, draws attention to his hometown in SW China,” Xinhuanet, December 11, 2020. Another Sichuan local, the director of the Culture and Tourism Bureau in Ganzi, has drawn visitors to the region through his popular cosplay videos that generated 7 million reviews. Building on the strength of these influential celebrities, visitor numbers to the region were said to reach 35 million, more than two-and-a-half times 2016 volumes. 22 “Local official promoting Sichuan tourism goes viral on internet,” China Daily, June 17, 2022; “The Director of Culture and Tourism disguises himself as a “Swordsman” knight to promote Ganzi tourism,” Travel Daily , June 17, 2022.

Online travel companies are also using social media to reach consumers. Early in the pandemic, Trip.com took advantage of the upward trend in livestreaming. The company’s co-founder and chairman of the board, James Liang, hosted weekly livestreams where he dressed up in costume or chatted to guests at various destinations. Between March and October 2020, Liang’s livestreams sold around $294 million’s worth of travel packages and hotel room reservations. 23 “Travel companies adapt to a livestreaming trend that may outlast the pandemic,” Skift, October 26, 2020.

Livestreaming is being used by tourism boards, too. For instance, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) collaborated with Trip.com to launch a new campaign to attract Chinese tourists to Thailand as cross-border travel resumed. The broadcast, joined by TAT Governor Mr Yuthasak Supasorn, recorded sales of more than 20,000 room nights amounting to a gross merchandise value of over RMB 40 million. 24 “Trip.com Group sees border reopening surge in travel bookings boosted by Lunar New Year demand,” Trip.com, January 13, 2023.

International tourism providers looking to engage Chinese travelers should keep an eye on social media channels and fully leverage key opinion leaders.

Scale with the right channel partners

Travel distribution in China has evolved into a complex, fragmented, and Chinese-dominated ecosystem, making scaling an increasingly difficult task. Travel companies need to understand the key characteristics of each channel type, including online travel agencies (OTAs), online travel portals (OTPs), and traditional travel agencies as each target different customer segments, and offer different levels of control to brands. It also takes different sets of capabilities to manage each type of distribution channel.

Travel companies can prioritize the channels they wish to use and set clear roles for each. One challenge when choosing the right channel partner is to avoid ultra-low prices that may encourage volume, but could ultimately damage a brand.

Meanwhile, given the evolution of the postCOVID-19 industry landscape and rapid shifts in consumer demand, travel companies should consider direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels. The first step would be selecting the appropriate D2C positioning and strategy, according to the company’s needs. In China, D2C is a complicated market involving both public domains (such as social media and OTA platforms) and private domains (such as official brand platforms). To make the most of D2C, travel companies need a clear value proposition for their D2C strategy, whether it be focused on branding or on commercial/sales.

Create a seamless travel experience for the digitally savvy Chinese tourist

China has one of the most digitally advanced lifestyles on the planet. Chinese travelers are mobile-driven, wallet-less, and impatient—and frequently feel “digitally homesick” while abroad. Overseas destinations and tourism service providers could “spoil” tech-savvy Chinese travelers with digitally enhanced service.

China’s internet giants can provide a shortcut to getting digital services off the ground. Rather than building digital capabilities from scratch, foreign tourism providers could engage Chinese travelers through a platform that is already being used daily. For example, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport provides a WeChat Mini Program with four modules: duty-free shopping, flight inquiry, information transfer, and travel planning. This contains information about all aspects of the airport, including ground transportation and tax refund procedures.

Alibaba’s Alipay, a third-party mobile and online payment platform, is also innovating in this space. The service provider has cooperated with various tax refund agencies, such as Global Blue, to enable a seamless digitized tax refund experience. Travelers scan completed tax refund forms at automated kiosks in the airport, and within a few hours, the refunded amount is transferred directly to their Alipay accounts. 25 “Alipay and Global Blue to make tax refunds easy for Chinese tourists,” Alizila, June 23, 2014.

Such digital applications are likely to be the norm going forward, not a differentiator, so travel companies that do not invest in this area may be left behind.

Chinese travelers are on the cusp of returning in full force, and tourism providers can start preparing now

With China’s quarantine requirements falling away at the start of 2023, travelers are planning trips, renewing passports and visas, and readying themselves for a comeback. Chinese tourists have not lost their appetite for travel, and a boom in travel demand can be expected soon. Though airlines are slow to restore capacity, and some destination countries are more risk averse when welcoming Chinese travelers, there are still options for Chinese tourists to explore destinations abroad.

Tourism providers can expect to welcome travelers with diverse interests who are willing to spend money on travel, who are seeking out exciting experiences, and who are choosing high-quality products and services. The returning Chinese traveler is digitally savvy and favors functionality over branding—trends suggest that providers who can craft authentic, seamless, and unique offerings could be well positioned to capture this market.

Guang Chen and Jackey Yu are partners in McKinsey’s Hong Kong office, Zi Chen is a capabilities and insights specialist in the Shanghai office, and Steve Saxon is a partner in the Shenzhen office.

The authors wish to thank Cherie Zhang, Glenn Leibowitz, Na Lei, and Monique Wu for their contributions to this article.

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China to resume issuing passports for tourism as COVID controls fall

BEIJING (AP) — China says it will resume issuing passports for tourism in another big step away from anti-virus controls that isolated the country for almost three years, setting up a potential flood of Chinese going abroad for next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.

WATCH: COVID rapidly spreads in China as government eases strict quarantine rules

The announcement Tuesday adds to abrupt changes that are rolling back some of the world’s strictest anti-virus controls as President Xi Jinping’s government tries to reverse an economic slump. Rules that confined millions of people to their homes kept China’s infection rate low but fueled public frustration and crushed economic growth.

The latest decision could send free-spending Chinese tourists to revenue-starved destinations in Asia and Europe for Lunar New Year, which begins Jan. 22 and usually is the country’s busiest travel season. But it also presents a danger they might spread COVID-19 as infections surge in China.

Travel services companies Trip.com and Qunar said international ticket bookings and searches for visa information on their websites rose five to eight times after Tuesday’s announcement. Top destinations included Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, Britain and Australia.

Japan, India, South Korea and Taiwan have responded to the Chinese wave of infections by requiring virus tests for visitors from China.

China stopped issuing visas to foreigners and passports to its own people at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

The National Immigration Administration of China said it will start taking applications Jan. 8 for passports for tourists to go abroad.

The agency said it will take applications to extend, renew or reissue visas but gave no indication when they might be issued to first-time applicants.

China will “gradually resume” admitting foreign visitors, the agency said. It gave no indication when tourist travel from abroad might resume.

The changes will “create better conditions for orderly cross-border travel” and “bring more benefits to global economic development,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin.

China will “work with all countries” to “restore safety and stability to global industrial and supply chains and promote world economic recovery,” Wang said.

Health experts and economists expect the ruling Communist Party to keep limits on travel into China until at least mid-2023 while it carries out a campaign to vaccinate millions of elderly people . Experts say that is necessary to prevent a public health crisis.

During the pandemic, Chinese with family emergencies or work travel deemed important could obtain passports, but some students and businesspeople with visas to go to foreign countries were blocked by border guards from leaving. The handful of foreign businesspeople and others who were allowed into China were quarantined for up to one week.

Before the pandemic, China was the biggest source of foreign tourists for most of its Asian neighbors and an important market for Europe and the United States.

READ MORE: COVID-19 wave rolls through China, overwhelming hospitals outside Beijing

The government has dropped or eased most quarantine, testing and other restrictions within China, joining the United States, Japan and other governments in trying to live with the virus instead of stamping out transmission.

Japan and India have begun requiring virus tests for travelers from China. South Korea tests all visitors with elevated temperatures. South Korea says anyone who tests positive will be quarantined at home or in a hotel for a week.

South Korean officials said possible additional measures for arrivals from China will be announced Friday.

Taiwan on Wednesday announced visitors from China will be tested starting Jan. 1.

Hong Kong authorities said Wednesday they would scrap some of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions, including PCR tests for all inbound travelers and vaccination requirements to enter certain venues. The easing comes as the southern city prepares for a reopening of borders with mainland China next month.

On Monday, the Chinese government said it would remove quarantine requirements for travelers arriving from abroad, also effective Jan. 8. Foreign companies welcomed the change as an important step to revive slumping business activity.

Business groups have warned global companies were shifting investment away from China because foreign executives were blocked from visiting.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China says more than 70 percent of companies that responded to a poll this month expect the impact of the latest wave of outbreaks to last no more than three months, ending in early 2023.

The government has stopped reporting nationwide case numbers but announcements by some cities indicate at least tens and possibly hundreds of millions of people might have been infected since the surge began in early October.

Experts have forecast 1 million to 2 million deaths in China through the end of 2023.

Also Monday, the government downgraded the official seriousness of COVID-19 and removed it from a list of illnesses that require quarantine. It said authorities would stop tracking close contacts and designating areas as being at high or low risk of infection.

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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Travelers stand in a long line snaking through belt barriers in an airport. In the foreground, outside the line, a child and an adult hold passports.

China Has Reopened to Tourists. The Hard Part Is Getting There.

Despite loosened visa rules, the number of flights into China is still a small fraction of what it was before the pandemic, fueled partly by geopolitical tensions.

A check-in line for a China Eastern Airlines flight to Shanghai at New York’s Kennedy International Airport last week. Credit... Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

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By Nicole Hong and Chang Che

  • April 10, 2023

When the Chinese government announced last month that it would fully reopen its borders to foreign travelers, the news came as a jolt of relief to the millions of Chinese immigrants overseas who have been separated from their relatives since 2020.

But a flood of visitors has yet to arrive. Many people are struggling to even book a plane ticket, stymied by high prices and a lack of direct flights.

Liu Wei, 62, who lives in San Diego, recently spent hours at a local travel agency filling out a pile of paperwork to obtain a long-term visa to China. After searching for weeks for a flight, she bought a ticket for later this month to reunite with her sisters in the northeastern port city of Dalian. Round-trip business-class tickets from San Diego to Dalian cost between $6,000 and $10,000, she said, double what she typically paid before the pandemic.

“I miss the choice and the freedom to go back and forth,” said Ms. Liu, who used to visit China every summer. “It’s been such a tragedy for us to not be able to go back to our own country.”

For nearly three years, China maintained some of the harshest travel restrictions in the world, largely sealing off its borders to business travelers, tourists and relatives of Chinese nationals. The ruling Communist Party enforced a “zero Covid” policy, attempting to eradicate the coronavirus with prolonged lockdowns and mass testing.

Overseas visitors who did manage to enter China were sometimes forced to quarantine for up to two months at their own expense. Some travelers even had to undergo anal swab Covid testing , triggering protests from governments outside China.

China’s isolation had broad ripple effects. Universities shut down academic exchanges with the mainland, and multinational companies shifted their supply chains to other countries. The millions of Chinese immigrants overseas — in countries like the United States, Britain, Canada and Malaysia — suffered the heaviest emotional cost, unable to return home to care for sick parents or bury relatives who died during the pandemic.

In December, China abruptly ended its “zero Covid” policy and soon began to ease border restrictions, removing quarantine requirements for international arrivals. The following month, business travelers were allowed to return on special visas.

Yellow lanterns hang above a busy corridor between two rows of shops.

The biggest barrier came down last month when the Chinese government resumed issuing tourist visas. China has also said it would reinstate the 10-year visas that had been suspended during the pandemic, facilitating the travel of many overseas visitors.

In a sign of pent-up demand, right after the Chinese government announced the loosened restrictions, searches on Expedia.com for travel from the United States to mainland China jumped around 40 percent from a month earlier, according to data provided by the online travel company.

Jessie Huang, who lives in Jersey City, N.J., hopes to visit China this summer but has struggled to find tickets under $2,000. Ms. Huang, 52, has not seen her 86-year-old father, who lives on an island off the coast of Shanghai, in seven years. She was supposed to visit in early 2020 after he suffered a stroke.

Ms. Huang has kept in touch with him through WeChat, the Chinese messaging app. She sometimes feels heartbroken after their conversations, sensing that each passing year becomes harder for him.

“I’m just missing my family,” she said.

Prices have stayed high partly because airlines have been slow to ramp up their flights to China. Globally, the number of flights into China in March were only about a quarter of what they were in the same month in 2019, according to Cirium, an aviation data provider.

Routes between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, have been capped because of geopolitical tensions. During the pandemic, the two rivals suspended each other’s flights in a political tit-for-tat, and airlines need the approval of both countries’ aviation authorities to increase routes.

American and European carriers are not as eager to resume all of their prepandemic flights to China, aviation analysts say. Since invading Ukraine more than a year ago, Russia has banned the American and European carriers from flying through its airspace, meaning flights to China now require longer routes with more fuel and flight crew.

U.S. carriers have been lobbying Washington to force Chinese airlines, which are still flying over Russia, to use the same routes as their American competitors, arguing that they have an unfair cost advantage.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation did not provide comment on when routes to China might increase.

Direct flights between the United States and mainland China are hard to get. Last month, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines both resumed direct flights to Shanghai from hubs in Detroit, Seattle and Dallas, but only a handful of times per week. United Airlines operates a direct flight from San Francisco to Shanghai four times a week. None of the airlines has any direct flights between the United States and Beijing.

Aviation analysts say airlines are also hesitant to add flights when other hurdles are dampening the demand to fly into China.

A negative P.C.R. test within 48 hours of departure is still mandatory for citizens of many countries to enter China. And the sudden changes in China’s border policies have left consulates around the world struggling to handle paperwork for visas, which are required for all overseas travelers to and from China.

Another factor that has slowed the rebound in flights into China is the fact that most of them before the pandemic were filled with Chinese tourists returning home. About 20 percent of Chinese passports expired during the pandemic, according to data from consulting firm McKinsey, resulting in lengthy waits for renewals that have delayed the recovery in outbound travel.

But the gates are gradually opening.

Bookings for group tours have surged for a holiday break in China in early May, according to Ctrip, a Chinese online travel agency. The top destinations included Thailand, Egypt and Switzerland, Ctrip said.

For now, the visitors who can most afford to fly to China are business travelers, who have been filling up premium cabins into the mainland.

China has rolled out the red carpet for foreign business officials, part of an effort to revive its economy after years of Covid lockdowns. Dozens of chief executives, including Tim Cook of Apple, flew to Beijing to attend last month’s China Development Forum, where China’s newly elected premier, Li Qiang, pledged that “the door to China’s opening will grow wider.”

Many executives are eager to visit with employees and suppliers for the first time since 2020.

A February survey of 43 American companies showed that 50 percent of chief executives planned to visit China in the first half of this year, according to the U.S.-China Business Council, a trade group in China.

“The Chinese government has sent some signals for support about private companies, but at the same time, it’s a tense geopolitical environment,” said Jack Kamensky, a senior director at the business council.

Some business owners were more hopeful about China’s reopening.

For over a decade, Keith Collea, a film technology entrepreneur, worked in China’s budding film industry on movies like the 2014 action film “The Monkey King.” His latest project, which involved providing visual effect equipment to Chinese amusement parks, was halted when he was shut out of the country during a trip to Los Angeles in 2020.

Now, Mr. Collea is planning a long-awaited return. He was confident his projects would resume once he reunited with his former investors and partners.

“Doing business in China is not something you can do over the phone from the United States,” he said. “You have to sit with people, you have to go to dinners, you have to drink a lot. You have to invest and grow relationships there.”

Claire Fu contributed research.

Nicole Hong is a reporter covering China. She previously worked for The Wall Street Journal, where she was part of a team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting. More about Nicole Hong

Chang Che is the Asia technology correspondent for The Times. He previously worked for The China Project and as a freelance writer covering Chinese technology and society. More about Chang Che

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China’s Tourists Can Travel Again. Here’s Why the World Is Still Waiting for the Rebound

China's Cross-border Travel Booms

N estled among the crumbling stupas of Laos’s ancient capital Luang Prabang, 525 Cocktails and Tapas was the city’s premier fine dining establishment, serving elevated local cuisine and perhaps Southeast Asia’s yummiest smoked negroni.

Foreign visitors comprised 95% of the restaurant’s footfall, and with tourist numbers to Laos breaking records year-on-year, plus a new high-speed train route due to link the landlocked nation with China’s city of Kunming to the north and Singapore to the south, business was looking up.

Then the pandemic struck. With borders sealed shut, 525’s British proprietor Andrew Sykes had no choice but to suspend operations, instead pivoting to local clientele by opening new premises in Laos’s modern capital, Vientiane. “The business is going very well,” says Sykes. “I will reopen in Luang Prabang but just not quite yet.”

Laos flung open its borders to visitors in May but the uptick in foreign arrivals has been torpid. Many in the hospitality industry hoped that would change following the opening of China’s borders on Jan. 8, given free-spending Chinese tourists comprised almost a quarter of the nation’s 4.7 million international visitors in 2019. Still, the results have been underwhelming.

“We’re starting to see Chinese customers come in, but it’s sub-10% of our business,” says Sykes. “It’s still predominantly Laos with some expats as well.”

Despite an indeterminate human toll , the sudden end of China’s zero-COVID policy is an undoubted boon for the global economy, liberating consumers and retailers of three years of supply chain disruptions wrought by arbitrarily shuttered ports and factories. The end of China’s pandemic travel restrictions is also a huge relief to the global hospitality industry. In 2019, Chinese travelers made 155 million trips overseas, spending $277 billion—a fifth of the global total outlay by international tourists.

But the experience of Laos, right on China’s southwestern frontier, shows that returning to the level of pre-pandemic travel will be a long, slow process.

Rebounding in Phases

The announcement on Dec. 26 that Chinese travelers could once again travel abroad naturally sparked optimism in a regional hospitality industry that has suffered greatly during the pandemic . Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, reported that overseas bookings from Jan. 1 to Jan. 10 had increased by 313% year-on-year, with Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia among the most popular destinations.

Still, overall traveler numbers remain a fraction of pre-pandemic numbers. Firstly, the abrupt and chaotic end of zero-COVID meant that airlines and travel agencies had little time to scale up capacity before a rush of interest, meaning flights were limited as costs soared.

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“Lots of airports, airlines, travel partners let some of their staff go,” says Jane Sun, CEO of Ctrip parent Trip.com Group. “So now they need to recruit the staff back and re-train them. But we’re hoping during the second half of the year, everything will be back to normal.”

When China announced that it would reopen its borders from Jan. 8, the focus internally was on preparing Hong Kong and Macau—two destinations within the People’s Republic but that due to their “semi-autonomous” status still count as “outbound” travel on tourist figures.

The second phase, which began on Feb. 6, included only 20 countries to where Chinese travelers could book tours and “package” (flight plus hotel) vacations: most Southeast Asian nations—including Laos—plus the UAE, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, New Zealand, Fiji, Cuba, and Argentina. In Europe, only Switzerland and Hungary made the cut, while North America was completely shunned.

In any case, the abruptness of the January reopening meant that few Chinese wanted to travel abroad for Lunar New Year—instead choosing to spend it with families that they had been cut off from for the holiday over the past three years. The period immediately following Lunar New Year has never traditionally been a popular travel time in China, and so there’s unlikely to be any huge rebound until the summer at the earliest.

“October and towards the back end of this year is when you’ll start to see the real upswing,” says Gary Bowerman, director of Check-in Asia, a tourism intelligence and strategic marketing firm. “And by that time, you would think that the Chinese travel industry will have found its feet and be able to manage demand.”

Changes in Capacity and Demand

As the world’s largest travel industry, it will take some time for China to get back up to full capacity. A positive factor is that China’s domestic tourism is huge and permitted tour operators to pivot inward rather than suspend operations completely, as was the case in smaller countries.

Still, it’s unlikely that tourism from China will return in exactly the same shape as before. Currently, there just aren’t many flights. Travel data firm OAG suggests that capacity to and from China will swell from about 1.5 million seats in December 2022 to more than 4 million in April 2023. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAC) expects total air traffic for 2023 to reach 75% of pre-pandemic levels.

The CAC will soon post its new spring and summer flight schedules, which will show where demand is heading over the next few months. Every big airline is currently locked in negotiations, though China, as ever, will protect its own domestic carriers by handing them the pick of routes and timings.

In addition, political wrangling persists. China is the only country globally to reopen its borders in the midst of a huge COVID surge (in fact, its biggest on record). Some nations eager for tourism cash chose to backburner the public health implications. In Thailand, where 28% of all visitors in 2019 were from China, arrivals were welcomed by garlands and health kits handed out personally by a deputy prime minister.

However, many governments slapped new testing requirements or bans on Chinese arrivals, prompting Beijing to retaliate by suspending the issuance of short-term visas to their nationals, including from South Korea and Japan. Tourism flows will continue to be buffeted by such politically-charged pandemic headwinds.

The pandemic has also left its imprint on travel habits. Ctrip’s Sun says that today’s Chinese tourists are looking to book trips at short notice—mitigating possible pandemic disruption—but also travel in smaller groups, using more sustainable means, and in ways that they feel safe. “More and more customers really want to be very well protected when they’re traveling,” says Sun.

This is another reason why the U.S. might be last to feel the benefits of any rebound. As relations between Beijing and Washington spiral over myriad issues , anti-Asian hate crime and gun violence has been amplified on Chinese state media. Even before the pandemic, Trump-era trade tariffs and anti-China bombast contributed to just 2.9 million Chinese travelers visiting the U.S. in 2018, down from 3.2 million in 2017, according to U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office data. “Chinese tourists are incredibly risk averse,” says Bowerman. “They don’t want to be near anything that puts their own personal security in danger.”

Of course, given many Chinese study, work or have family in the U.S., a significant number will continue to shuttle across the Pacific. However, safety concerns and a high price point for American travel amid a slowing Chinese economy, plus onerous restrictions for Chinese nationals to get U.S. visas, means many will stay away. And they will be missed; in 2018, Chinese tourists in the U.S. each spent an average of $6,700 per trip—over 50% more than the typical traveler, according to industry body the U.S. Travel Association.

“The Chinese economy has been struggling so I think pricier destinations might find it a little bit more difficult,” says Bowerman. “Value will be a big factor over the next six to 12 months, for sure.”

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Traveling to China After Reopening – What’s Changed?

We offer the latest advice on traveling to China in 2023, including information on current Chinese visa application requirements, pre-flight testing, and travel tips.

UPDATE (November 1, 2023): China Customs announced that it will no longer require people leaving and entering China to fill in the Entry/Exit Health Declaration Card. This decision means that from this day forward, there are no more  COVID-era restrictions and requirements for travelers leaving and entering the country. However, anyone leaving or entering China who shows symptoms of or who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease is still required to declare their health status to Customs of their own volition. See our article for more details on this news here .

UPDATE (September 20, 2023): In a bid to attract more international visitors, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) introduced a simplified visa application process on September 20, 2023. This revision primarily focuses on the visa application form and entails two significant changes. Firstly, applicants are now required to list their travel history from the past year instead of the previous five years. Secondly, the educational background section has been streamlined to only request the highest level of education achieved.

These adjustments, according to MFA spokesperson Mao Ning, are intended to reduce the time applicants spend on visa forms and enhance overall efficiency. The MFA reaffirmed its dedication to fostering people-to-people interactions between China and other countries, emphasizing China’s commitment to high-quality development and global engagement.

UPDATE (August 28, 2023):  The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin made a significant declaration that starting from August 30, 2023, travelers heading to China will not have to undergo mandatory pre-entry COVID-19 nucleic acid tests or antigen tests.

In March 2023, China announced that it had resumed issuing all types of visas , giving the official greenlight for foreign travelers and tourists to return to the country. This announcement followed months of gradual dismantling of COVID-19 travel restrictions, which saw the lifting of quarantines, vaccine and testing requirements, and travel codes.  

Domestic and international travel requirements have since been further relaxed so that there are currently almost no additional steps to take in relation to COVID-19 in order to travel to China.  

However, foreign travelers may still be confused when planning for their China trip, as it adopted a progressive approach for lifting restrictions, and the latest information is scattered across a series of announcements. Below we answer some common questions on China travel after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

Which Chinese visas are currently available?  

China resumed issuing all types of visas in March 2023. All of the same types of visas that were available prior to the pandemic are now available for application again.  

The visas that are currently available to travel to China are listed in the table below.  

Note that if you obtain a long-term visa, such as a work or student visa, you are required to convert the visa into a residence permit within a prescribed period of time, usually 30 days.

Is my 10 – year C hinese visa still valid?  

All multiple entry visas that were issued before March 28, 2020, that are still within the validity date can now be used to travel to China again . This includes 10-year visitor visas issued to citizens of the US and other countries. Note that you are usually only able to stay in China for a period of up to 60 days on this type of visa, and you will need to apply for another long-stay visa if you wish to stay longer than 60 days. 

I f the visa has expired since March 28, 2020 , you will be required to apply for a new visa before you can travel to China.  

How do I apply for a Chinese tourist visa in 2023?  

In most cases, foreigners must apply for a visa in order to travel to China. This is done through your nearest Chinese Visa Application Service Center, not the consulate or embassy. You must either be a citizen or have residency or another right to stay (such as a visa) in the country in which you are applying for the Chinese visa.

The requirements to apply for a visa vary depending on the type of visa you are applying for and the location in which you apply for it. It is therefore important to check the website of your local Chinese Visa Application Service Center for application requirements.  

Note that the duration of short-stay visas, such as tourism or business visas, can also vary depending on your specific situation, where you apply, and your nationality.  

China does offer some visa-free options for short-term travel. These include 144-hour , 72-hour, and 24-hour visa-free transit, which allows foreign travelers to enter China through designated ports and travel around a limited area for up to six days, provided they are continuing on to a third country after departing the country.  

At the end of November 2023, China also announced a 15-day visa-free entry policy for holders of ordinary passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia, during the period from December 1, 2023, to November 30, 2024.

For more information on visa-free travel to China, see our Complete Guide to China’s Visa-Free Policies .  

What are the COVID-19 testing requirements to travel to China?  

There are no longer any COVID-19 testing requirements to enter or leave China. Starting from August 30, 2023, travelers bound for China were no longer required to undergo COVID-19 nucleic acid tests or antigen tests before their departure. In addition, from November 1, 2023, onward, China Customs ceased requiring travelers to fill in and show the Entry/Exit Health Declaration Card , removing the last COVID-era travel requirement.

In its announcement scrapping the health declaration card requirement, China Customs emphasized that people leaving and entering China who show symptoms of or who have been diagnosed with an infectious disease are still required to declare their health situation to Customs of their own volition. Symptoms may include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, or unexplained subcutaneous bleeding, according to the notice. This has been a requirement since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you report any symptoms, you may be taken aside for additional testing. If you test positive for COVID-19, you will be permitted to recover in your place of stay or seek medical help if required.

It’s important to stay updated with any further announcements or changes that may arise, as travel guidelines and policies can evolve in response to the ongoing global situation. Travelers are advised to refer to official sources such as the Chinese government’s official websites and diplomatic channels for the most accurate and up-to-date information before planning their trips to China.

Are there any restrictions on traveling within China?  

China has removed all domestic travel restrictions, meaning that people are now free to cross provincial and regional borders without having to show negative COVID-19 tests or health codes.  

Note that if you enter China on one of the short-term transit entry permits, you are not permitted to travel outside a certain designated area, which will depend on your port of entry. For information on where you can travel on this entry permit, see our article here .  

Do I need to take any COVID-19 precautions while traveling in China?  

COVID-19 is still present in China, and it is therefore advisable to take common sense prevention measures when traveling around the country. These precautions are the same as the ones you would take in other countries and include regularly washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask in public, and avoiding crowded areas where possible, among others.  

Mask mandates on public transport and in public areas, such as restaurants, bars, stores, malls, and parks, have been removed. However, the government still advises people to wear them of their own volition.  

Wearing a mask is still mandatory in nursing homes and medical institutions. You should also wear a mask if you test positive for COVID-19.  

What happens if I test positive for COVID-19 while in China?  

You are no longer required to go to a quarantine facility if you test positive for COVID-19.

The current official advice in China if you test positive for COVID-19 is to self-isolate at home if you are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. If you have moderate to severe symptoms, you should seek medical help, and you may be hospitalized if your condition is serious.    

It is advisable to purchase medical insurance before traveling to China, as staff in public health institutions may only speak Chinese and private healthcare is very expensive.  

It is also advisable to bring fever medicine, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, as you may not be able to buy the same brands you are used to taking in your home country, and staff at pharmacies usually only speak Chinese.  

(This article was originally published on June 9, 2023 , and was last updated on November 29 , 2023.)

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates . The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done so since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at [email protected] .

Dezan Shira & Associates has offices in Vietnam , Indonesia , Singapore , United States , Germany , Italy , India , Dubai (UAE) , and Russia , in addition to our trade research facilities along the Belt & Road Initiative . We also have partner firms assisting foreign investors in The Philippines , Malaysia , Thailand , Bangladesh .

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Chinese tourists are back, but numbers still far from pre-COVID levels

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Reporting by Joe Cash in Beijing; Graphics by Kripa Jayaram in Bengaluru and Pasit Kongkunakornkul in Bangkok; Editing by Marius Zaharia and Sonali Paul

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Joe Cash reports on China’s economic affairs, covering domestic fiscal and monetary policy, key economic indicators, trade relations, and China’s growing engagement with developing countries. Before joining Reuters, he worked on UK and EU trade policy across the Asia-Pacific region. Joe studied Chinese at the University of Oxford and is a Mandarin speaker.

china tourism covid

Pasit Kongkunakornkul is a Financial Graphics Reporter at the Reuters news agency. Before joining Reuters, he worked as a journalist in Thailand with experiences as an online reporter for two TV stations and then as an international news reporter and data journalist in an online news outlet. He also used to work as a programmer at the Stock Exchange of Thailand for three years before he became a journalist. His team at Reuters was also a finalist for the Reuters' Graphics of the Year award in 2022.

Unfinished residential development by China Evergrande Group, in the outskirts of Shijiazhuang

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China’s Visa-Waiver Policy Boosts Inbound Tourism: Foreign Visitors Up 152%

Peden Doma Bhutia , Skift

July 9th, 2024 at 5:18 AM EDT

After the pandemic-induced slump, China’s simplification of visa procedures appears to have paid off, with foreign visitors in the first half of the year soaring 152% compared to the year before.

Peden Doma Bhutia

In the first half of the year, 14.64 million foreigners visited China, marking a 152% year-on-year increase, according to the National Immigration Administration.

China, historically a major player in outbound tourism, is now focusing on boosting its inbound arrivals. Recent visa-free policy changes appear to have helped increase the number of foreign visitors to the country.

Over 8.5 million visa-free entries were recorded from the period between January to June this year, making up 58% of inbound travel, reflecting a 190% increase year-on-year.

Despite this growth, current numbers still fall short of the pre-Covid benchmark of 15.53 million foreign visitors in the first half of 2019.

China’s National Immigration Service reported processing 287 million inbound and outbound trips in the first six months of 2024, a 71% year-on-year increase. These included 137 million visits by mainland residents, 121 million by Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan residents, and 29.2 million by foreigners.

China’s Visa Waiver Policies

China has simplified visa procedures with more than 40 countries and has mutual visa waiver agreements with more than 20, according to reports . New Zealand, Australia and Poland are the latest countries to join the country’s expanding visa waiver program .

In November,  China introduced a one-year trial for visa-free travel  for citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia. In March,  this program was expanded to include Ireland, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

China initially announced the visa-free policy for a trial period until November 30 this year, but has now extended it until December 31, 2025.

Travelers with ordinary passports from these countries can enjoy visa-free stays of up to 15 days for business, tourism, family visits, or transit purposes.

The Chinese government has also relaxed entry regulations for tourists arriving via cruise ships. As of May 15, such visitors can stay in China visa-free for up to 15 days.

The expanded visa-free transit policy, effective since last November, now includes citizens from 54 countries. They can stay up to 144 hours without a visa in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, provided they have a valid onward ticket. Cruise ship passengers also benefit from this exemption.

Beijing’s Inbound Growth

Beijing also saw a significant increase in foreign visitors in the first half of 2024, with over one million visiting the capital, a 257% year-on-year increase, according to data from the Beijing General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection.

Over 159,000 foreign nationals from the 12 visa-exempt countries have entered the city under China’s visa-free policy this year, according to the Beijing exit and entry authority. Foreign nationals coming to Beijing can now also apply for a temporary driving license upon arrival at the airport.

The border inspection office is also helping local travel agencies organize international group tours more efficiently. In the first half of the year, more than 30,000 foreign visitors came to Beijing as part of such tours, a 30-fold increase compared with the same period last year.

During the same period, 33,700 eligible foreign travelers utilized China’s 144-hour visa-free transit policy, a seven-fold increase year-on-year.

Easing of Entry for Hong Kong and Macau Residents

In other related developments, China will also now allow Hong Kong and Macau permanent residents to apply for multiple-entry travel visas to mainland China, each valid for five years.

From July 10, foreign permanent residents of these cities can apply for such visas, though each stay cannot exceed 90 days, as announced by the National Immigration Administration.

The government said the initiative aims, to further facilitate exchanges between mainland Chinese people and those in Hong Kong and Macau, aiding them to “better integrate into the overall national development.”

Non-Chinese residents from these regions traveling for short-term purposes like investment, visiting relatives, tourism, business, and seminars can apply for the permit through authorized services. However, the permit does not allow holders to work, study, or engage in news coverage activities on the mainland. Those intending to do so must apply for other visas or residence permits.

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It's Not Too Late To Hold China Accountable on COVID | Opinion

N o matter who wins in November, preparing for the next pandemic needs to be a top priority for America's leaders. An essential first step must be holding the last pandemic's main culprit—the Chinese government—accountable.

COVID-19 resulted in over 28 million excess deaths around the world, including 1.1 million in America. As our new Nonpartisan Commission on China and COVID-19 report shows, the financial cost to our country amounted to 18 trillion dollars. Despite these astronomical damages, however, our government has so far failed to hold China to account for its unacceptable negligence and malfeasance.

The strong preponderance of evidence supports our assessment that a research-related incident in Wuhan was most likely the source of the initial outbreak. But our assertion of Chinese culpability holds regardless of how the initial spillover happened, whether from a laboratory accident or, as some allege , as a result of China's illegal wildlife trade. Either way, what followed was a coverup.

Beijing could have contained the outbreak early on by alerting its own citizens—and the world—to the threat. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maximized COVID-19's spread and impact by destroying samples , hiding records , imprisoning journalists , gagging scientists, blocking international investigations, and lying to and seeking to co-opt the World Health Organization .

That's why accountability today is so important to our safety tomorrow. Without it, every authoritarian state official facing similar circumstances in the future will be incentivized to follow the CCP's COVID-19 playbook of lies and obfuscation .

To that end, our report lays out a blueprint for the next administration to hold China accountable. One of our most important recommendations is that the U.S. government empower American victims of COVID-19 to hold Chinese entities liable through mass tort class action lawsuits.

Establishing liability is an essential tool for fostering accountability in any functioning domestic legal system. The same principle can be applied appropriately in the international context. But while America's Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) provides a limited path forward for potential plaintiffs, the bar for these types of actions remains dauntingly high.

This restrictiveness makes sense in normal circumstances and helps prevent international chaos. But these are not normal circumstances. Our world remains dangerously and unnecessarily at risk for future pandemics because we've collectively failed to establish accountability for the last one.

Congress can fix this problem with a single-paragraph amendment to the FSIA. Republicans and Democrats should work together to ensure that U.S. federal courts are granted jurisdiction over cases where injured American citizens are seeking monetary damages against a foreign state, with the important caveat that the foreign state must have directly through malfeasance or indirectly through negligence sparked a pandemic leading to over a million excess deaths in America and failed to carry out or allow a comprehensive and unfettered investigation.

Congress should take this action for three essential reasons. First, it would give teeth to ongoing American and international efforts exploring the pandemic's origins that the CCP is currently impeding. Second, it would remind China that misleading the world comes with a cost. Third, and most important, it would establish a precedent encouraging all countries to respond to pathogenic outbreaks with transparency and accountability.

Although these steps may seem aggressive, particularly in the context of worsening relations between the United States and China, we have already lived through the consequences of the status quo. Twenty-eight million people are dead as a result of a totally avoidable pandemic. If we do not take tough action now, future pandemics will almost certainly be far worse.

Our children's safety shouldn't be a partisan issue. Fighting for answers about what went wrong with COVID-19 shouldn't be something we put off until the next pandemic is upon us. By holding the Chinese government accountable today, our leaders can save countless American and other lives tomorrow.

Jamie Metzl, a Democrat, served in the U.S. National Security Council and State Department and is a Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council, and is the author of Superconvergence: How the Genetics, Biotech, and AI Revolutions Will Transform our Lives, Work, and World . John Ratcliffe, a Republican, is the former US Director of National Intelligence and served as a member of the US Congress from Texas's fourth district. Both are members of the Heritage Foundation Nonpartisan Commission on China and COVID-19, which Ratcliffe chairs.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.

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WUHAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 30: Residents wear masks while walking in street as the national flag waves on November 30, 2021 in Wuhan, China. Life for many of the residents in Wuhan is returning to normal a year and a half after the city imposed strict lockdowns to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

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  • Published: 05 July 2024

Assessing the reactions of tourist markets to reinstated travel restrictions in the destination during the post-COVID-19 phase

  • Xuankai Ma 1 , 2 , 4 , 5 ,
  • Rongxi Ma 2 , 4 ,
  • Zijing Ma 5 ,
  • Jingzhe Wang 6 ,
  • Zhaoping Yang 3 , 4 ,
  • Cuirong Wang 2 , 4 &
  • Fang Han 2 , 4  

Scientific Reports volume  14 , Article number:  15495 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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This study, leveraging search engine data, investigates the dynamics of China's domestic tourism markets in response to the August 2022 epidemic outbreak in Xinjiang. It focuses on understanding the reaction mechanisms of tourist-origin markets during destination crises in the post-pandemic phase. Notably, the research identifies a continuous rise in the potential tourism demand from tourist origin cities, despite the challenges posed by the epidemic. Further analysis uncovers a regional disparity in the growth of tourism demand, primarily influenced by the economic stratification of origin markets. Additionally, the study examines key tourism attractions such as Duku Road, highlighting its resilient competitive system, which consists of distinctive tourism experiences, economically robust tourist origins, diverse tourist markets, and spatial pattern stability driven by economic factors in source cities, illustrating an adaptive response to external challenges such as crises. The findings provide new insights into the dynamics of tourism demand, offering a foundation for developing strategies to bolster destination resilience and competitiveness in times of health crises.

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china tourism covid

A ten-year review analysis of the impact of digitization on tourism development (2012–2022)

Introduction.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous and long-lasting social and economic impact on the tourism industry 1 . International tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) plummeted by 73% in 2020 due to a global embargo, widespread travel restrictions, and a massive drop in demand. Compared to 2019, there were approximately 1 billion fewer international visitors that year 2 . The year 2021 is considered by scholars as the Year of Recovery for tourism, with tourism indicators signaling recovery 3 , 4 . The climate crisis and the European return to war are expected to restrict international travel 5 , and the domestic market will be an appropriate approach to drive tourism recovery 6 . The expansion of domestic tourism is propelled by a considerable accumulation of suppressed demand, a rising preference for domestic locales, and stringent border entry and exit controls.

Nevertheless, the mutation of the Omicron virus resulting in greater contagiousness will lead to localized areas being re-closed to counter the diffusion of the Virus 7 . It is an additional shock to the recovering tourist destinations. The investigation of the response of origin markets to the reclosure of destinations during the tourism recovery period is of significant relevance for regional authorities to assess the impact of the outbreak and the maintenance of tourist origins.

This paper aims to investigate what changes occur in origin market demand for destinations affected by reclosure during the tourism recovery period, what spatial differences such changes show, and how the differences in response exhibited by origin markets arise. The response in tourism demand is quantified through the analysis of annual growth rates in the domestic market during periods of reclosure. Based on tourism demand theory, demographic, economic, and environmental conditions, COVID-19 epidemic status, healthcare conditions, Internet access coverage, and traffic activation will be potential influential factors to account for the variation in origins market response. We add new insights to the COVID-19 study of short-term effects and spatial differences in tourism demand by examining the pattern of origins market response in the face of destination reclosure from the tourist origins' perspective (cities).

Literature review

The covid-19 and the tourism industry.

The dramatic impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry has intensified the involvement of scholars in studies on the issue. In the initial phase of the pandemic (2020), UNWTO reported international tourist arrivals to decline by 70–75% for 2020. Academics have addressed the effects of the pandemic on national tourism markets 8 , 9 , the response of the tourism industry to the crisis 10 , 11 , and the framework for sustainable development 12 , 13 , 14 . Greece, with its developed tourism industry, the loss of tourism revenue due to the pandemic has directly contributed to the overall economic decline of the country 15 . The pandemic has declined tourist arrivals and affected employment and productivity in the Balearic Islands, revealing the region’s decline 1 . Hotel revenues in Italy fell by 66% relative to Turkey due to the embargo policies 16 . The U.S. hotel industry lost about $30 billion in revenue in the spring of 2020 17 , while the restaurant industry also faced a notable crackdown 18 . The multidimensional assessments of the influence of the pandemic on tourism demand were performed by comparing this crisis with the normal state of affairs before the crisis, which pointed to a significant negative consequence of tourism with its sibling sectors along the entire tourism industrial chain 19 . Restoring tourist arrivals to pre-crisis standards will probably confront prolonged pain 20 .

Some improvement in the epidemic accompanies the crisis response and recovery period (after 2021). Regardless, the pace of recovery continues to be sluggish and uneven in all regions of the world due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates, and traveler confidence. Dynamic adjustment of travel restrictions within the country during the post-pandemic period could stimulate a recovery to a limited extent and allow domestic tourism to dominate 21 , 22 . Empirical studies show that regions with monoculture industries have no buffers to adapt to the crisis in the face of shocks that significantly reduce tourism demand 23 , 24 . In contrast, regions with prosperous industries and strong tourism specialization will be highly resilient to disruptions in the context of less restrictive movement of people, presenting a competitive advantage with a slight decline in demand 25 , 26 . Scholars believe this is the best time to promote equitable and sustainable tourism development, and the disconnect between tourist demand and destination development (growth expansion) needs to be repaired 27 , 28 . The construction of tourism sustainability will focus more on the changing needs of tourists themselves and their demand preferences. In the future, regulating the balanced development of regional tourism by changing tourists’ needs is the focus of tourism sustainability in the post-epidemic era 29 , 30 .

Measures of tourism recovery

In the tourism literature, scholars have proposed and implemented the concept of tourism resilience to quantify post-crisis tourism outcomes, particularly the ability and magnitude of regional tourism to recover from the COVID-19 disruptions 31 . Metrics such as employment rates, tourist arrival rates, and tourism revenues are measures to assess regions’ tourism resilience within geographically large areas 32 , 33 , 34 . It is noteworthy that the recoverability of tourism in different regions varies by geographic area and thus shows distinct patterns of recovery. Thus, the spatial heterogeneity of tourism recovery must be considered 35 . Scholars have argued that location quotients 36 , the share of an industry in the local total divided by the share of the industry in the national total, can better account for the speed of tourism recovery from that region’s crisis 37 .

Tourism demand change observation

In the era of Big Data, the utilization of search engines by tourists to acquire travel-related information ahead of their trips has become the initial step in travel planning 38 . The significance of search engine data in characterizing and predicting tourism demand has been gradually acknowledged by tourism researchers since 2010 and has been incorporated into various models for analytical work 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 . Due to the search behavior of tourists based on their destinations of interest, these electronic behavior records are normalized into search engine indexes to indicate tourism demand, preferences, travel intentions, and the location of the tourists’ origin 43 . Researchers have conducted studies on tourism demand response to pandemics and tourism recovery rates with search engine data, confirming the significant advantages of search engine data in fitting economic indicators during the COVID-19 pandemic 22 , 44 , 45 . Therefore, we attempted to characterize the rate of change in tourism demand in the origins market by investigating search engine data for a specific period (destination reclosure) as search engine data gives high-frequency information on the travel intentions of Internet users in different regions for a defined destination.

Overview summary

In the post-epidemic era of tourism recovery, a sub-black swan event of local reclosure is inevitable. We are interested in how origin markets will respond to destination reclosure, the characteristics of the spatial response patterns, and the reasons for this heterogeneity that need to be urgently explored. While the literature has usefully explored the recovery of tourism with mature domestic markets, it is crucial to focus on the changes in tourism demand for destinations at the national level, where the origin markets are the roots of tourism demand. To address the limitations of previous research, this paper contributes to the tourism literature by using a search engine to quantify short-term tourism changes during tourism crises and constructing models of tourism demand changes in different regions to explore the drivers of different response patterns.

Materials and methodologies

Tourism demand data.

Search engine data is identified as an efficacious data source for measuring high-frequency tourism demand. Google Trends has extensive applications worldwide, whereas Baidu has a more indicative role in China. The Baidu search engine has two data products: Keyword Search Index and Brand Index ( https://index.baidu.com ). The Keyword Search Index contains data from 2011 till now, and the Brand Index is a more professional industry-based index that will be available from August 2021. This paper utilizes daily keyword indices from 2011 to 2022 to investigate the background of tourism demand for the Duku Road and brand indexes from August 10 to October 31 in 2021 and 2022 to measure changes in tourism demand for the Duku Road from different origins regions during the destination closure period under the impact of the pandemic.

where i is a tourist origin city; j is a date from August 10 to October 31; BBI is the Baidu Brand Index of a city search for Duku Road on a date. s is a spatial series of origin cities or an individual city; t is a temporal series of dates; T.D. is the sum of demand from s during t .

The Chinese domestic tourism market was chosen as the study case due to the robust intervention policies adopted by China during the first pandemic, dramatically impacting international and domestic tourism in China. In the post-epidemic era, a multitude of countries have eased international travel restrictions. The massive mobility of individuals within China and the mutation of the Virus made travel policies contingent on the consequences of the containment of the pandemic. In this context, domestic tourism demand has emerged a robust recovery. This phenomenon is also prevalent in other countries, and scholars are confident that domestic tourism will be the recovery engine in the short term. It is a matter of significant concern that tourist arrivals may abruptly decline to zero in instances where destinations are compelled to shut down anew amidst a pandemic resurgence. Notwithstanding, it is pertinent to note that latent tourism demand persists. In response, this study meticulously tracks variations in demand at these destinations and corresponding responses from origin markets, employing high-frequency search engine data as a quantitative metric of demand. Distinct from conventional statistical methods, the monitoring of such rapid changes necessitates the utilization of big data analytics.

Xinjiang was one of the most popular destinations for domestic tourism in 2022, with millions of tourists entering Xinjiang by self-drive, high-speed rail, and air. The Duku Road (high-rank landscape driveway) is the most attractive destination for tourists, with 28.35% of tourism demand in Xinjiang. It serves as a tourist hub, radiating tourists to other attractions 46 . Tourism prosperity has made Xinjiang an unignorable destination during domestic tourism recovery. Nevertheless, the massive tourist flows have planted the potential for the spread of the epidemic. The entire territory of Xinjiang entered a region-wide silent management to control the epidemic on August 10 and will remain in effect through the winter. During this period, all travel activities had to be ceased, and the government organized the transfer of healthy travelers back to their origins. This unexpected outbreak has had a fatal impact on Xinjiang’s thriving tourism industry. The study case has typical implications. This paper investigates the origins market’s response to the destination’s reclosure, considering the Duku Road as the destination and cities outside Xinjiang as the domestic origin markets.

Three hundred and seven cities of China’s domestic tourism market were adopted as the tourist origins for the case study. The Duku Road, located in Xinjiang, served as the destination (Fig.  1 a). The Duku Road is a mysterious and fascinating landscaped driveway that stretches through the north and south of the Tianshan Mountains, a World Natural Heritage Site, which is also known as the Tianshan Road. The Duku Road runs with a unique topography, with numerous sharp curves and steep slopes, more than 280 km of road sections above 2000 m above sea level, 1/3 of the whole course is a cliff, 1/5 of the lot is in the high mountain permafrost, crossing nearly ten major rivers in the Tianshan Mountains, and over four ice-pass of mountains that accumulate snow all year round (Fig.  1 b). Driving on Duku Road, travelers experience the seasonal transformations in a single day, which shows the magnificent scenery of “four seasons in one day, ten miles in different skies” to off-road enthusiasts and self-driving tourists.

figure 1

The study case. ( a ) The domestic tourist markets of Duku Road. ( b ) The location of Duku Road, Xinjiang, China. Notes: The map in ( a ) was produced using ESRI ArcMap 10.2, and the standard map service was provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources of China, accessible at http://bzdt.ch.mnr.gov.cn/ with Grant No. GS (2021) 5448. The photographs in ( b ) were taken by the first author for tourism resources investigation in September 2021.

Dependent variables

The literature has proposed numerous valid measures of change in tourism demand, and scholars have characterized tourism resilience based on micro-level expenditure elasticities and annual percentage changes between the pre-and post-pandemic periods 6 , 25 . This paper pays attention to measuring the instantaneous response of origin markets to the public health crisis in a destination that caused the closure period (August 10–October 31), where typically, growth rates are employed to capture the difference in performance relative to a benchmark 26 , 47 . Thus, tourism demand in 2021 is considered the initial period of the post-pandemic recovery period, and the growth rate for the corresponding period in 2022 versus the benchmark period is adopted as a measure of Tourism Demand Growth Rates (TDGR). The demand ratio is chosen indicator of short-term resilience 48 , and we generate the Tourism Demand Ratio (TDR) as the alternative dependent variable to test the robustness of conclusions. To illustrate the distribution of these dependent variables, Fig.  2 presents a histogram, kernel function density estimation plot, and maximum likelihood Gaussian distribution fit, providing a comprehensive view of the underlying data structure and the variability in Tourism Demand Growth Rates (TDGR) and Tourism Demand Ratio (TDR).

where i is a tourist origin city; t' is the current year (2022), and t is the control year (2021); TDGR i is the tourism demand variation of the city i; \({TD}_{i}^{t}\) is the sum of demand from city i in year t .

figure 2

Statistical distribution analysis of TD, TDGR, and TDR variables. Notes: TD. is the Baidu brand index during the closure period, metric tourism demand, and the number in parentheses is the year; TDGR is the growth rates of tourism demand, and TDR is 2022 vs. 2021 ratio of tourism demand. The values of the above variables are processed by f = ln(x).

Determinants and proxy variables

The willingness of tourists to explore a destination depends on the determinants of the origin’s financial capacity, physical constraints, and psychological tendencies, in addition to the destination’s attractiveness. Furthermore, challenged by pandemic restrictions on mobility, we considered the origin markets’ epidemic circumstances and medical availability. We have selected the population, economics, environmental conditions, COVID-19, medical healthcare, Internet accessibility, and traffic activeness of the origin cities as potential determinants of tourism demand to analyze their impact on tourism demand changes, as detailed in Table 1 43 , 49 , 50 , 51 , 52 , 53 .

China has a substantial tourism market with spatially non-stationary development levels of cities in each region, and origins cities have significant spatial stratification heterogeneity. Accordingly, following large administrative geographical regions, we disaggregate the origin markets into East China, South China, Southwest China, North China, Northeast China, and Northwest China. The statistical data of each city are obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics ( http://www.stats.gov.cn/ ), and the epidemic data sources of COVID-19 are informed by the National Health and Health Commission and the provincial health and health commissions ( https://2019ncov.chinacdc.cn/2019-nCoV/ ). The advantages of this paper’s dataset are that it measures the seven explanatory variables mentioned above through twenty-five proxy variables, which captures the diversity of factors driving the tourism demand changes. Additionally, all the proxy variables will be standardized within large administrative geographical regions (Fig.  3 ), which helps to reveal significant differences in the explanatory variables performing distinct roles in different local regions.

figure 3

Proxy variable box plots group by regions. Notes: The labels of the X-axis, East China, South China, Southwest China, North China, Central China, Northeast China, and Northwest China are abbreviated as N.C., NEC, E.C., CC, SC, and NWC, respectively. The Y-axis labels are abbreviations for the proxy variables in Table 1 .

Research framework

The research framework, as illustrated in Fig.  4 , consists of three stages: temporal and spatial change analysis of tourism demand, exploratory regression analysis, and model evaluation.

figure 4

The research framework. Notes: TD-Tourism Demand; TDGR-Tourism Demand Growth Rates; LISA- Local Indicators of Spatial Association; EC, SC, NC, CC, SWC are the models in different regions (East China, South China, North China, Central China, and Southwest China) respectively.

The first stage involves depicting the spatial pattern of the Duku Road tourist origin markets and its changing process in the temporal dimension. The Global Spatial Autocorrelation method is applied to assess the spatial patterns of the origin markets, the Getis-Ord Gi* Hotspot Analysis method 54 detects the dominant origin market clusters, and the Local Spatial Autocorrelation Analysis method 55 is assigned to reveal clusters and outliers areas of tourism demand variation. The spatial distribution characteristics will map out the origin markets and pinpoint the dominant origin regions.

In the second stage, this paper uses an exploratory knowledge discovery strategy, i.e., finding the most significant drivers of each region among the many proxy variables that may impact tourism demand changes. Candidate proxies that are significantly correlated are initially filtered out from the Correlation Analysis between the proxies and explanatory variables. Then the candidate proxies are imported into a multi-round Linear Regression Analysis for iterative modeling and comparisons, thereby investigating the factors influencing the tourism demand variation in each region. Since the proxy variables in this paper are not entirely customarily distributed, Spearman’s Correlation Analysis 56 has the advantage of handling mixed data. The proxy variables with correlation coefficients greater than 0.3 and a significance over 95% will be considered candidate proxy variables. The Stepwise Regression Analysis 57 can perform multiple turns of regression analysis on candidate proxy variables and automatically remove the insignificant variables, resulting in the exploration of the model with the optimal performance with significance.

The third stage is the diagnostic evaluation and robustness testing of the model. Multiple linear regression, autocorrelation, normality of residuals, and eteroscedasticity are used to diagnose the model’s performances 57 . We compare the conclusions obtained from Stepwise Regression Analysis with the results obtained by substituting the dependent variable to evaluate the validity of the conclusions. The above experiments will be replicated with the ratio of tourism demand during the destination closure in 2022 to the corresponding period in 2021 as the dependent variable, and the conclusions will be considered dependable and robust in case of substantial consistency.

Spatial and temporal changes in origin markets demand

The paper utilizes the Baidu search engine to garner search records of the Duku Road in China over the past decade (Fig.  5 a). Results indicate a rapid surge in the attraction of the Duku Road since 2015, peaking in 2019. Despite the impact of COVID-19 in 2020, the demand for tourism quickly rebounded, hitting a new high in 2022. It is imperative to note that due to safety risks associated with the Duku Road, it is only accessible to tourists from May to October every year. During this period, the tourism demand for Duku Road exhibits a primary and secondary peak, with a critical point at the main peak, dividing this phase into a rising and a declining period. Specifically, the rising period commences in early May, peaking towards the end of July, followed by a continual decline. However, a second surge forms during the National Day Golden Tourism Week, which subsequently dwindles gradually.

figure 5

Variation of Baidu index for Duku Road (2011–2022). ( a ) The daily Baidu Index trend for Duku Road (2011–2022). ( b ) The Baidu Index during the years of unrestricted access for The Duku Road (2011–2022).

Considering a sudden outbreak of COVID-19 across Xinjiang, local authorities initiated a silent management policy, imposing traffic restrictions from August 10 to October 31. According to historical time series characteristics of the Duku Road, this time point coincides closely with the critical date when the tourism demand transitions from a peak to a decline. A comparison of the keyword index during the rising and declining periods of each year reveals that the tourism demand maintained a high level before the travel restrictions, while the destination closure significantly impacted the tourism demand, causing a sharp decline (Fig.  5 b).

Although post August 10, 2022, marked the declining phase of tourism demand for the Duku Road, the Baidu index for the keyword “Duku Road” remained high (only a 5% decrease compared to the same period in 2021) before August 10, 2022. This suggests a stable tourism demand for the Duku Road prior to the pandemic closure. However, post August 10, the Baidu index plummeted by 43% compared to the same period in 2021, inferring a direct impact on the tourism demand for the Duku Road due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Xinjiang and the traffic control measures. Noteworthy is that despite the inability to conduct any tourism activities in Xinjiang post August 10, the source market maintained a robust potential tourism demand for the Duku Road from August 10 to October 31. During the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown in Xinjiang, the tourism demand from seven administrative regions in China for the Duku Road grew by an average of 31.49% compared to 2021, indicating a strong resilience in the tourism demand for the Duku Road. This reflects that despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic and traffic control policies, the restrained tourism demand will gradually be released once the situation is under control, highlighting a significant potential for recovery.

Based on the spatial autocorrelation analysis results (Table 2 ), the tourism demand from the source market demonstrates a significant spatial clustering pattern, with the spatial pattern of the Duku Road’s source market transitioning from a low level to a moderate level of spatial clustering. The spatial distribution of tourism demand from source cities to the Duku Road has been impacted by the pandemic crisis, exhibiting a trend of contraction and clustering towards core source cities.

Viewed from the perspective of source cities, this section utilizes the Jenks Natural Breaks method to categorize source cities into five groups based on the intensity of tourism demand towards Duku Road and constructs a spatial distribution map of tourism demand from the source market. The map employs a color gradient from blue to red to represent the intensity of tourism demand from source cities to the Duku Road, where red and orange cities signify core and secondary source cities, respectively. The domestic source market is primarily distributed in the developed cities in eastern China. In Fig.  6 a,b, cities like Beijing and Shanghai are identified as core source cities, while Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou are recognized as secondary source cities. A comparison between Fig.  6 a,b reveals that cities like Lanzhou, Xi’an, and Nanjing no longer serve as secondary source locations, indicating that some secondary source cities are more sensitive to the tourism demand for Duku Road under Xinjiang pandemic crisis than others, which exhibiting a variability within the secondary source market.

figure 6

The spatial patterns of tourism demand and its' variation. Notes: Hu Huanyong Line in ( e ) is a comparison divider proposed by Chinese geographer Hu Huanyong (1901–1998) in 1935 to delineate the population density of China, which has significant heterogeneity in the population, society, and economy between the east and west of the line.

Upon further hotspot analysis of the source market, the results exhibit significant statistical clustering in the spatial domain for the Duku Road’s source market. As depicted in Fig.  6 c,d, the red zones represent the hotspots of tourism demand, encompassing the Jing-Jin-Ji region, Yangtze River Delta, and the Pearl River Delta, which emerge as the most crucial source markets with lesser impact from the pandemic crisis on Duku Road. On the other side, the blue zones signify the cold spots of tourism demand, where cities within these regions exhibit an exceedingly low tourism demand towards the Duku Road. A comparative inspection of Fig.  6 c,d unveils a shift in some cold spot areas (for instance, the disappearance of the cold spot on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and the emergence of a new cold spot area north of the Hexi Corridor), while the stability of cold spot regions in Northeast China remains high (such as Hulunbuir and Daxing’anling area).

This section analyzes the growth rate of tourism demand, designating cities with growth rates below zero with a gradient of cool colors (blue), and those with growth rates above zero with a gradient of warm colors (red), with intervals of (±) 20%. As shown in Fig.  6 e, cities with a growth rate exceeding 100% are rendered in deep red. There is a significant positive correlation in the spatial distribution of tourism demand growth rates, indicating neighboring cities share a consistent response pattern to the pandemic. A distinct contrast is formed on either side of the Hu Huanyong Line; source markets to the east primarily exhibit positive growth rates, while those in the western regions display negative growth rates. Analysis of local clustering and outliers reveals the formation of three distinct local clusters in the spatial distribution of tourism demand growth rates (Fig.  6 f). Cities near the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Hexi Corridor in Northwestern China respond strongly to the pandemic crisis, with rapid declines in tourism demand towards Duku Road in this area (L–L). A sporadic distribution of outlier cities (H–L) emerges on the eastern side of Northwestern China, exhibiting superior risk resilience and higher tourism demand compared to other local areas. In Southwest China, Yunnan province has higher demand growth, with Pu’er and Lijiang being typical tourist cities. The fluctuations in their demand are impacted by their respective tourism industries, exhibiting a phenomenon where they are encircled by proximate cities experiencing high demand growth rates (L–H).

By dividing the source market according to administrative regions, summing up the tourism demand from cities within each administrative region to Duku Road, and averaging the growth rate of tourism demand, regional differences are identified. As shown in Fig.  7 , a comparison of tourism demand scale and growth between 2021 and 2022 across administrative regions is made. Using the Jenks Natural Breaks method, they are categorized into high, medium, and low levels. This corresponds to East China being the primary source market for Duku Road, while North, Central, South, Southwest China are secondary source markets, and Northeast and Northwest China are potential source markets. Northeast and South China have the highest growth rates in tourism demand, followed by North, Central, and East China, with Southwest and Northwest China having the lowest. There is minimal variation in the scale of tourism demand from cities within each region to Duku Road, but a larger difference in the growth rates of tourism demand.

figure 7

The maps with box plots of the tourism demand and growth rates.

Correlation analysis for TDGR

The correlation between explanatory variables and the growth rate of tourism demand significantly varies across different regions, suggesting that a more nuanced analysis could be obtained by partitioning the source market for modeling. In the South China region, 64% of the explanatory variables are negatively correlated with the growth rate of tourism demand, while in the Northwest region, no explanatory variables exhibit significant correlation. In the Northeast region, only two explanatory variables are negatively correlated with the tourism demand growth rate. In East China, Southwest, North China, and Central China, about one-third of the explanatory variables show a correlation with tourism demand growth rate at a significance level better than 0.05.

The correlation results indicate that under the “dynamic zeroing” policy control, new cases in source areas do not correlate with the potential tourism demand growth rate of residents. For instance, the numbers of newly confirmed and asymptomatic cases only show a negative correlation with the tourism demand growth rate in the South and Southwest regions of China. The relationship between the number of COVID-19 recovered patients and the tourism demand growth rate differs between the southern and northern regions, showing a weak positive correlation in the Southwest region and a weak negative correlation in the North China region. Notably, a significant moderate negative correlation exists between public medical resources of local source cities and the tourism demand growth rate. In the post-pandemic era, factors related to tourism demand growth rate are constantly changing, and the relationship between influential factors and tourism demand growth rate shows spatial non-stationarity across different regions.

Significant explanatory variables in the East China region include per capita disposable income, average wages, consumer price index, savings deposits, the number of people covered by basic medical insurance, and highway passenger traffic. In South China, the variables include the resident population, per capita GDP, per capita disposable income, per capita consumer spending, savings deposits, PM2.5 concentration, AQI index, newly confirmed cases, newly confirmed asymptomatic cases, the number of hospitals, hospital bed count, basic medical insurance coverage, mobile phone user count, broadband access user count, private car ownership, and civil aviation passenger traffic. In Southwest, the variables include per capita GDP, infection count, newly confirmed cases, newly confirmed asymptomatic cases, recoveries, private car ownership, highway passenger traffic, and spatial distance. In North China, significant variables include savings deposits, industrial solid waste utilization rate, recoveries, mobile phone user count, broadband access user count, and private car ownership. In Central China, the variables include per capita GDP, savings deposits, AQI index, hospital bed count, basic medical insurance coverage, mobile phone user count, broadband access user count, private car ownership, and spatial distance. In Northeast, the significant variables are average wages and savings deposits. In Northwest, no significant explanatory variables have statistically meaningful correlation with tourism demand growth rate.

Stepwise regressions

Diverging from studies that directly engage in regression analysis with correlation tests 6 , this chapter adopts a stepwise regression modeling approach. It sequentially incorporates significant explanatory variables from Table 3 (highlighted in bold) for each region into the model to explore influential factors under optimal fitting circumstances. However, the results of stepwise regression analysis reveal that in the Northeast and Northwest regions (Table 4 ), due to a limited number of significant explanatory variables and a lack of significant linear relationships between these variables and the dependent variable, no effective models are obtained. In other regions, there is a noticeable disparity between influential factors and model fit.

In East China, average wages are the sole factor affecting the growth rate of tourism demand, albeit with weak explanatory power (R 2  = 0.08). In South China, the AQI index exerts a negative impact on the tourism demand growth rate, contributing to 17.9% of the variance explanation. In North China, the growth rate of tourism demand is negatively affected by the industrial solid waste utilization rate, with an explanatory power of 17.8%. In Central China, per capita GDP is a significant factor negatively impacting the tourism demand growth rate. In the Southwest region, the tourism demand growth rate is influenced by multiple factors, where spatial distance has a positive impact, and per capita GDP has a significant negative impact. Combined, they account for 42% of the explanatory power concerning the growth rate of tourism demand.

In summation, the growth rate of tourism demand in source markets chiefly hinges on local economic, environmental, and transportation factors. Although there is a significant weak correlation between the local pandemic situation and the tourism demand growth rate in certain areas, it fails to exert a statistically significant impact on the local tourism demand towards the Duku Road.

The efficacy of the models has been corroborated by the diagnostic items and parameters delineated in Table 5 . The results indicate that the models passed the F-test (p < 0.05), implying that the independent variables in each model significantly affect the dependent variable TDGR, denoting the models are meaningful. With a limited number of dependent variables in the models, the VIF (Variance Inflation Factor) values are well below 5, suggesting that there is no multicollinearity issue, and the models are well-constructed.

In the autocorrelation test of the models, the D-W (Durbin-Watson) value of the model for the South China region deviates significantly from 2 (1.508 < 1.7), indicating that the significance testing and goodness of fit for this model would be unreliable; hence, this model failed the validation, while the other models are deemed credible. Moreover, this section re-models using TDR from Sect. 7.2.2 as an alternative dependent variable following the framework procedure. The results of the new model are consistent with the conclusions previously obtained, eventually leading to linear regression models for the tourism demand growth rate in four regions.

Factors affecting TDGR

The response to the changes in tourism demand for the Duku Road during the pandemic period is manifested through the tourism demand growth rate of the source cities. The results of the regional model construction discussed earlier (see section " Stepwise regressions ") indicate that the factors affecting the growth of tourism demand for the Duku Road vary significantly across different regions. As shown in Fig.  8 , on a national scale, the models for the North China, Central China, East China, and Southwest regions have all passed the significance test and robustness test. Each model corresponds to a subplot, with the title of the subplot being the model formula for the respective region, and the content of the subplot displaying the spatial distribution of the tourism demand growth rate and explanatory variables. All indicators are divided into five intervals using the Jenks Natural Breaks classification method, with colors from blue to red representing intervals from low to high.

figure 8

The influential factors models of response heterogeneity of tourist origin markets to Duku Road.

Upon comparing the similarities and differences across regional models, it is found that during the pandemic period in Xinjiang, the primary factors influencing the response differences to destination lockdowns in the domestic source markets for the Duku Road include Per Capita GDP, average wages, industrial solid waste utilization rate, and spatial distance. Economic factors have a counteractive effect on the tourism demand growth of the source cities, an impact widely present in East China, Central China, and Southwest regions, exhibiting robust spatial consistency. Notably, environmental factors indicate that the growth of tourism demand is constrained by the industrial solid waste utilization rate, a significant relationship found only in North China. This section observes that in industrially prosperous areas within this region (Hebei-Tianjin), the growth of tourism demand is limited, or even decreased, whereas in remote areas with lower industrial levels (Inner Mongolia), the tourism demand is not high, but generally has a high rate of growth. The significant positive impact produced by the distance factor in the Southwest region can be attributed to the distinct differences between the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Sichuan-Chongqing-Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau; the former has low levels of tourism demand and growth rate, while the latter has relatively higher tourism demand and growth rate, thereby leading to a higher tourism demand growth response in source cities farther from the Duku Road.

Factors influencing tourism demand towards Duku road

Understanding the factors influencing the tourism demand from source cities to Duku Road is crucial for grasping the heterogeneity in tourism demand growth rates. This section employs a loop iteration approach to individually examine the linear fit between twenty-five explanatory variables of source cities within seven administrative regions, and the tourism demand scale of these cities towards Duku Road, to investigate the factors affecting the tourism demand scale of source cities to Duku Road. From a total of 175 linear models, eight models were identified as statistically significant and demonstrating a superior degree of fit ultimately. These models, with a significance level exceeding 0.01 and an R 2 value greater than 0.8, effectively explain the scale of tourism demand across more than four administrative regions.

As illustrated in Table 6 , different variables significantly positively impact the demand for tourism to the Duku Road across various regions. The rise in the number of broadband and mobile phone users suggests more individuals have mobile communication capabilities, enhancing the accessibility to information regarding Duku Road. This improved digital outreach fosters the online visibility and awareness of the destination, consequently boosting the local residents’ desire to travel there. Savings deposits reflect the economic capacity of individuals or families in the source cities, laying the foundation for affording travel to Duku Road. A higher per capita Gross Domestic Product indicates a relatively higher income level and consumer spending capacity, enabling more discretionary income for long-distance travel expenditures. The economic stature of the source cities implies a higher preference for tourism and a more open cultural backdrop, collectively fostering an increased interest and demand for traveling to Duku Road. An augmentation in the number of individuals covered by basic medical insurance and the quantity of hospital beds signifies enhanced medical security for more residents. Better medical services and emergency response capabilities help mitigate the impact of local epidemics on residents’ travel activities. Simultaneously, it alleviates tourists’ concerns about the travel risks and uncertainties associated with the epidemic situation in Xinjiang, bolstering their confidence in traveling to Duku Road. Higher air passenger traffic denotes more flight connections between the residents and the destination, supporting the accessibility for inland tourists to Duku Road. Elevated private car ownership in source cities inclines residents towards choosing self-driving tours to Duku Road, offering greater flexibility, freedom, comfort, and convenience. This mode of travel satisfies tourists’ desire to explore the scenic routes of Duku Road and indulge in personalized experiences.

In summary, determinants such as the extent of internet coverage, economic conditions, medical security, and transportation facilities in the source markets influence the residents’ demand for tourism to the Duku Road in various aspects. The extent of internet coverage lays the foundation for environmental awareness of the Duku Road among residents of the source cities; whereas economic conditions are essential for residents to travel to the Duku Road. Amid an ongoing pandemic, medical security in the source cities can mitigate the adverse effects of the local epidemic on residents’ travel behaviors; transportation conditions provide diversified accessibility for the residents of the source cities. In the source markets of the Duku Road, areas with a large scale of mobile phone users, high residents’ savings, comprehensive medical insurance coverage, and developed passenger aviation contribute the most to the tourism demand to the Duku Road. This conclusion aligns with the spatial pattern of tourism demand discussed in section " Spatial and temporal changes in origin markets demand ". As illustrated in Fig.  9 , box plots of the number of mobile phone users (IA1), savings deposits (E6), the number of individuals covered by basic medical insurance (H3), and the volume of civil aviation passengers (TA3) demonstrate that the Eastern China region ranks highest in these four indicators nationwide, and concurrently, it has the highest demand for tourism to the Duku Road. Furthermore, summarizing the determinants in Table 6 and arranging them in descending order based on the average R 2 reveals that the economic conditions > transportation accessibility > medical conditions > extent of internet coverage, indicating that economic conditions are the most crucial determinant affecting the scale and spatial pattern of tourism demand in the source markets.

figure 9

Tourism origins market maps corresponding with boxplots of variables in regions.

The competitive resilience of core tourist attractions

The study unveils a nuanced understanding of tourism demand dynamics, particularly illuminating the interplay between spatial structures of source markets and economic factors amidst unprecedented health crises such as COVID-19. Even during the crisis, the potential demand from tourist origin markets for a leading tourist attraction continues to be remarkably high and will have considerable potential to counteract the crisis in the post-pandemic era 11 . By delving into the spatial patterns and demand determinants for Duku Road in Xinjiang during the epidemic silent management period, the study extrapolates the driving forces behind the resilience and demand sustenance of core tourism attractions.

Firstly, the notable positive spatial autocorrelation within Duku Road’s source markets elucidates a significant conceptual insight: geographically proximate source cities harbor similar tourism demands. The absence of a Matthew Effect, and the ensuing market dispersion and diversity, underscores Duku Road’s ability to allure visitors from a broad geographic spectrum, thereby diluting over-reliance on singular markets. This diversification not only embodies adaptive capacity to navigate tourism adversities but also buffers the blow from crises by enabling a continuum of demand from unaffected markets. The relative unscathed potential tourism demand during the epidemic crisis manifests the merits of such market diversification.

Secondly, the decisive role of economic factors extends beyond merely shaping the tourism demand from tourist markets towards Duku Road; it critically impacts the spatial configuration of its source markets 58 . The stratified heterogeneity in crisis response, with economically robust core source cities demonstrating stability versus the sensitivity of secondary source cities with moderate economic levels, unveils an inherent inertia in the spatial structure steered by economic dynamics. This is a salient contribution to understanding the spatial-economic nexus in tourism demand studies.

Lastly, the regional variance captured through sectional models divulges that core source cities with high economic indicators face a saturation effect in tourism demand scale for Duku Road, contrasting with potential source cities that possess a larger scope for escalating tourism demand growth rates. It also identifies regional differences in the factors influencing tourism demand variations 19 , 59 , 60 . This saturation effect, negatively impacting tourism demand growth rates, accentuates the regional disparities in factors influencing tourism demand variations. The knowledge will help to provide insights into the influential factors driving tourism demand variations in distinct regions 59 .

In synthesis, the resilience of core tourism attractions within a region is constructed on a quadrate foundation: the uniqueness of tourism experience, market dispersion, heterogeneity in crisis response, and spatial structural stability induced by economic factors in source cities. Post-crisis, core attractions sustain a substantial scale of potential tourism demand, with economic factors significantly steering the tourism demand scale, leading to a spatial structural inertia towards core cities. The marked discrepancies in response patterns among source cities, tied to the saturation effects on local economic factors, spotlight the imperative of diversifying source market risks to accrue potential tourism demand, thereby accelerating recovery and sustaining competitive edge post-crisis.

These insights are seminal for policymakers and industry stakeholders to craft efficacious strategies for mitigating crises impacts, fostering tourism recovery, and bolstering resilience. The discourse propels a deeper comprehension of the factors instigating regional variances in tourism demand, furnishing a robust theoretical scaffold for future empirical explorations in the realm of tourism demand studies amidst crises. This narrative, therefore, extends a substantial theoretical contribution towards understanding the ramifications of COVID-19 on tourism demand, while amplifying the criticality of domestic demand in substituting the downturn in international tourism, thereby laying a robust groundwork for successful post-crisis recovery and long-term resilience in regional tourism sectors.

Limitations and prospects

The limitation in dataset is that the dependent variable does not measure the actual visits, revenues, or employment in tourism in the destination area. Instead, it measures Internet searches for a particular attraction. As Internet interest is indeed correlated with actual trips, the possibility of inferring short-term variations in demand on the search alone is limited. Regarding our emphasis on core tourist attractions within a regional destination has inadvertently disregarded the vulnerabilities of a broader array of regional attractions. Forthcoming studies will encompass an evaluation of the comprehensive repercussions that tourism crises exert on the destination system, alongside an analysis of the source market’s reactions. Additionally, studies will classify tourist attractions by their level or type and will subsequently discuss the risk resilience and the mitigating strategies employed for each group of tourist attractions. An integrated and differentiated methodology such as this promises to yield a more systematic understanding, benefiting the strategic planning and operational decisions of tourism management entities.

In contemplating future research directions, several potential areas warrant further investigation. Initially, a novel comprehensive indicator should be generated for monitoring tourism demand by integrating search data, user-generated content on social media platforms, and statistical data. This integration would avoid the original error in sample coverage of the source market due to internet access disparities. Furthermore, expanding the research framework to encompass additional destinations and broader dimensional factors, and employing mixed-effect models to study the overall impact of these factors on tourism demand, would yield a more holistic understanding of tourism demand dynamics during crisis situations. Additionally, examining the economic downturn in the post-epidemic era, with a particular focus on the influence of decreased travel intentions following the lifting of travel restrictions and the subsequent general reopening, could offer crucial insights into the resilience of various destinations and origin markets. Lastly, an in-depth analysis of the long-term consequences of crisis events on tourism demand, as well as the recovery trajectories of destination and origin markets, would be instrumental in providing essential guidance for policymakers and industry planners aiming to mitigate the adverse effects of crises on the tourism sector.

Conclusions

This inquiry delved into the dynamics of potential tourism demand from China's domestic origin markets towards Duku Road in Xinjiang during the epidemic closure in August 2022. The exploration unfolded heterogeneous response patterns of tourism demand in the face of unexpected epidemic crises, particularly accentuating the post-epidemic era. The study homed in on the impact of demographic, economic, environmental, epidemic, medical, digital, and transportation facets on local tourism demand fluctuations within the origin markets, encompassing 308 cities. Utilizing spatial statistical and stepwise regression analyses, the investigation spotlighted spatial disparities in tourism demand variation rates across seven major regions.

A salient revelation is the altered response patterns of origin markets to epidemic crises at destinations, transcending the initial reactions during the 2019 onset of COVID-19. There is a notable uptick in tourism demand gravitating towards primary origins. While local epidemics and medical care in origins correlate with tourism demand variations, they do not forge a meaningful relationship. Economic determinants emerge as dominant negative influencers, with tangible regional disparities in factors affecting local tourism demand rates. Economically affluent regions surface as the core tourist origin markets, exhibiting resilience in tourism demand amidst destination tourism crises. Concurrently, core tourist-origin areas with high economic indicators appear to reach a saturation point, curtailing the growth rate of tourism demand. Conversely, potential tourist origin markets highlight significant variability with a pronounced growth potential, revealing a correlation with distance and an inverse relationship with industrial solid waste utilization rate.

Central to the findings above is the competitive resilience of core tourism attractions like Duku Road, demonstrated by its ability to maintain a stable tourism demand even amidst adversities such as the epidemic crisis. Firstly, the study demonstrates that core tourist attractions within destination systems can accumulate potential tourism demand during crises through their intrinsic appeal and diversified market structure. This accumulated demand provides substantial momentum for recovery, highlighting the importance of maintaining and enhancing the attractiveness of core tourism assets to sustain potential tourism demand. Secondly, core tourist attractions serve as both growth poles within destination systems and recovery nodes for tourism revival. The spatial differentiation and clustering of tourism demand driven predominantly by economic factors within origin markets contribute significantly to the risk resilience of core attractions. These factors suggest that economically robust regions can act as stable sources of tourism demand, reinforcing the importance of understanding and leveraging economic conditions in origin markets to enhance the resilience and competitive edge of core attractions.

The insights are pivotal for stakeholders aiming to design efficacious strategies to navigate through crises, promoting tourism recovery and resilience, thereby maintaining the competitive edge of core tourist attractions, and regional tourism sustainability by strategies as followed: (1) Destination management organizations should focus on diversifying their market structures to include a mix of economically strong and emerging markets to buffer against localized crises. (2) Continuous monitoring of economic indicators in origin markets can provide early warnings and strategic insights for tourism demand management, allowing for more resilient destination planning. (3) Policymakers should prioritize strategies that enhance the core attractiveness of key tourism assets while simultaneously fostering diversified and resilient origin markets to safeguard against potential crises.

Data availability

The raw datasets utilized in this study can be accessed through the Baidu search engine at https://index.baidu.com and the National Bureau of Statistics of China at http://www.stats.gov.cn/ . The processed datasets that were used and analyzed during this research are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the financial supports from the Xinjiang Major Science and Technology Projects (No. 2022A03002), the Xinjiang Social Science Foundation Projects (No. 2022VZJ028), Guangdong Basic and Applied Basic Research Foundation (2023A1515011273), Basic Research Program of Shenzhen (20220811173316001), and Specific Innovation Program of the department of Education of Guangdong Province (2023KTSCX315).

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We spent a week in China. Here’s what we learned about our global rival

Steve Inskeep, photographed for NPR, 13 May 2019, in Washington DC.

Steve Inskeep

Reena Advani

Reena Advani

Taylor Haney

People cycling in Tsinghua University in Beijing, China on April 23, 2024.

People cycling in Tsinghua University in Beijing, China on April 23, 2024. Stefen Chow for NPR hide caption

What’s really happening inside China?

Americans have a hard time answering that question. Though China ended its years of pandemic isolation, tensions with the U.S. have restricted the visits of American business people, students, journalists and even tourists who want to see how their global rival is doing.

But Morning Edition got a first-hand look at China when we traveled to Beijing and Shanghai for a week this spring. Our travels produced big stories and insights — and a hundred little observations about a dynamic nation. When it was over, I talked about our experience with NPR’s John Ruwitch, who has covered China for decades.

One evening in Shanghai, John guided us to dinner at an excellent Hunan-style restaurant, which was on the eighth floor of an upscale shopping mall. Neither the mall nor the restaurant seemed that busy, and that was enough to get our conversation started. Our talk follows, edited for length and clarity.

China in the age of delivery apps

John Ruwitch: I think malls are probably hurting in China these days because the economy is not great and because there's been such a shift over the past decade, decade and a half to buying things online. There's a zillion apps where you can click and not only have whatever product you want tomorrow, but in many cases you can have it within an hour.

Portrait of Li Tao, 21, a delivery rider in Beijing, China on April 24, 2024.

Portrait of Li Tao, 21, a delivery rider in Beijing, China on April 24. Stefen Chow for NPR hide caption

Steve Inskeep: Even beyond what we get in the United States, where I can order something on Amazon that might come today or seven days from now?

Ruwitch: Beyond that. There have been times when I have needed a new charging cable for my phone. Sitting at my desk, I can order it and it's there an hour later, hand delivered by a guy who came on a motorcycle.

Inskeep: There was a point where we stood on a super busy Beijing street, where delivery men congregate. And so there's like a couple of hundred bikes in a row. The delivery guys are waiting there for the internet to tell them where to go. It's a bunch of people from the countryside, many of them not from Beijing but from somewhere else.

Ruwitch: The Chinese economic miracle was underwritten by people moving from the countryside into cities, into the factory towns to turbocharge the factory economy to begin with but now it's the delivery economy that's part of it. I think what you saw was a pretty common scene in cities across the country where the guys zipping around for 12 hours a day, for a few bucks a day, are largely not from the towns where they're working.

Delivery riders in Beijing, China on April 24.

Delivery riders in Beijing, China on April 24. Stefen Chow for NPR hide caption

Inskeep: One of the drivers said he'd been a farmer for many years and then left his family behind to come into the city. That is still an ongoing story in China?

Ruwitch: Yeah, it definitely is. The first generation of factory workers who are doing that are reaching retirement age. Many of them are heading back to the towns where they came from or they've settled with new lives in these new towns. And so that generation is moving on but there's still a supply coming from the countryside into the cities.

What COVID did to China’s economy

Inskeep: You told me earlier about shopping malls having to adjust to the dramatic decline in consumer spending. We also sat with a bar owner who felt that he wasn't doing nearly as much business as he would have liked to.

Ruwitch: There's been a lot of churn in food and beverage businesses. A lot of businesses did not survive COVID and also struggled. And perhaps many also didn't survive the bounce back from COVID that wasn't. You know how the economy hasn't really rebounded the way many expected it would. It's kind of surprising, to be honest with you, that this guy [is not doing that well, because people still spend on small luxuries], like a coffee or maybe a cocktail, I would have thought.

Portrait of Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank in Beijing, China on April 23, 2024.

Portrait of Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank in Beijing, China on April 23. Stefen Chow for NPR hide caption

Inskeep: We talked with Dan Wang, the chief economist at China's Hang Seng Bank. She said that consumer spending is 40% less for the average urban resident compared to four years ago. That was stunning to me.

Ruwitch: That's a stunning figure.

Inskeep: This is people who already had a tendency to save a lot of money. And now they're saving even more if they're making it.

Ruwitch: COVID restrictions really took a bite out of the economy. The lack of a sustained rebound in 2023 hurt things. The government reported 5.2% growth last year, which — surprise, surprise — was right at the target that they were aiming for. But there are economists that say the economy did not grow that fast. It was probably two or less than 2% even. So, it's as you felt when you were there, it's a common refrain. People are just not feeling good about the economy, not feeling confident in the direction of the economy anymore. For decades, it was a foregone conclusion that the next year would be better than this year and that things would be better for my kids than they are for me. But that's come into question.

We also reported on China’s declining population

Inskeep: At one point we attended a “marriage market” in Shanghai, where parents try to match up their kids. We also spoke with Qian Lu, who is an economist who is now focusing more and more on the question of women in the economy and argues that for women, the numbers are all wrong, the economic numbers are all wrong for having kids. And this is one of the reasons that marriage rates are down and birth rates are down.

China once had a one-child policy — now it wants couples to have more children

Match makers display personal info of individuals seeking prospective mates at a corner of the People's Park in Shanghai, China, on Sunday, June 25, 2023.

Match makers display personal info of individuals seeking prospective mates at a corner of the People's Park in Shanghai, China, on Sunday, June 25, 2023. Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

Ruwitch: I've heard this countless times. Did a story on it last year talking to two women, one of whom was pregnant at the time, probably has given birth by now, the other of whom had zero interest and was actively avoiding having a boyfriend or getting married and moving down that path. The economics of it are huge. And the education expectations too that are placed on these kids are through the roof. Families that are competitive spend tons and tons of money on tutoring classes outside of school. And that's a bottomless pit.

Inskeep: When I think about a China with fewer people, I get stuck on all sorts of questions. For example, what does it mean for real estate when they build so many apartments and there are going to be fewer and fewer people to fill them? What does it mean for factories when they have so many and not as many people to work them?

Portrait of Qian Liu, independent economist in Beijing, China on April 24.

Portrait of Qian Liu, independent economist in Beijing, China on April 24. Stefen Chow for NPR hide caption

Ruwitch: The demographic situation for China is a tough one. The U.S. has this problem. Japan and South Korea have this problem. The base of workers is going to be too small to support all the retirees. I suspect factories will adapt. The automation is crazy. A few months ago, we visited a Volkswagen factory in central China. It takes about 24 hours to make a single car and they turn out hundreds a day, if not thousands a week. There's like a few hundred people managing the factory because it was all robots. It was quite amazing. That’s going to probably adapt fairly well. The real estate issues, the government is trying to work through now. They introduced several years ago various policies that induced a sharp downturn. Sales of new houses have collapsed, home values have fallen. The government has since unveiled a sort of string of steps, a rescue package, to try to prop up the sector just because so many families’ wealth is tied up in it.

Inskeep: Amid all of this grim economic news, we continue to see unbelievable technology traveling around China. Just taking a high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai or attending the Beijing auto show where we saw so many different brands of electric cars that are cheap, that the rest of the world is almost in terror of, and trying to build up trade walls against these cars.

China's automotive vision and influence are on display at the Beijing auto show

Ruwitch: Technology and driving the economy and driving, quote unquote “modernization” through technology has been important to the Chinese Communist Party since before it took power.

The exhibition booth of Chinese electric car maker BYD at the Auto China 2024, Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in Beijing, China on April 25, 2024.

The exhibition booth of Chinese electric car maker BYD at the Auto China 2024, Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in Beijing, China on April 25, 2024. Stefen Chow for NPR hide caption

Inskeep: They embrace technology.

Ruwitch: They're not afraid of it. They want to harness it. They have had multiple schemes over the years to advance technology — one of the latest being “Made in China 2025,” where they're trying to gain the sort of commanding heights of select industries by next year, including biotech, including aviation, a bunch of these other areas. Space is another one. I went to a launch a few weeks back where they were sending three astronauts up to their space station on a regular rotation. It’s pretty astonishing when you think, China's got its own space station orbiting the Earth. The other thing they did recently was they sent a probe up to the far side of the moon, the Chang'e 6 mission. They landed there, they collected some rocks. And those rocks and that spacecraft are on their way to land back on Earth on June 25. It's the first time any nation has ever collected samples from that side of the moon. There's only two other nations that have gotten samples from the moon in the first place. One's the U.S., the other was the Soviet Union. And so it's quite a feat. And while they were on the far side of the moon, their little lander hoisted a Chinese flag, which their media said was a first.

Chinese astronauts for the Shenzhou-18 mission, from right, Ye Guangfu, Li Cong, and Li Guangsu wave as they attend a send-off ceremony for their manned space mission at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China, Thursday, April 25, 2024.

Chinese astronauts for the Shenzhou-18 mission, from right, Ye Guangfu, Li Cong, and Li Guangsu wave as they attend a send-off ceremony for their manned space mission at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China, Thursday, April 25. Andy Wong/AP hide caption

Inskeep: How comfortable do you think Chinese citizens are with the dark side of technology? It's used to surveil them.

Ruwitch: There is unease with it, [though] when it comes to the government's use of data or collection of data, people are quite practical. There's zero that they can do about it. And so they get on with their lives. As you've seen, you go to any intersection in a city in China and there are 10, 20, 30 video cameras pointing in any given direction and an unknown number of other sensors that can pick up cell phone signals and analyze them.

Inskeep: In doing a story about IFLYTEK , a company that is on a U.S. “entities list” for its alleged cooperation with China's government using AI and using voice recognition software, an analyst pointed out to us that you can be recording every phone call, but you don't have enough people to listen to all the phone calls. Now, artificial intelligence can listen to the phone calls.

NPR producer Taylor Haney and iFlyTek's CFO Duan Dawei talking about the company's AI generated software, Shanghai, China on April 27, 2024.

NPR producer Taylor Haney and iFlyTek's CFO Duan Dawei talking about the company's AI generated software, Shanghai, China on April 27. Reena Advani/NPR hide caption

Ruwitch: Right. And they've been road testing this. In Chinese social media, they've for years now had sort of proto AI looking for keywords, looking for phrases, looking for pictures and censoring them and blocking people who post them automatically. It's algorithm-run. [Once] we chatted with this woman who was 20, doing an internship with a tech company. She had had her WeChat account closed because she posted some snarky remark. She's not a dissident. She wasn't advocating overthrowing the Communist Party of China. And yet, her account was closed down for a while because she posted something they didn't like.

Inskeep: I got an impression while in China that many people feel that their space for free expression, for free information is narrowing, and that's much different than it was a few years ago.

Ruwitch: I have gotten that sense from others as well. This woman who I was just talking about, she was very clear that she wasn't happy with the direction that the country was going. She was looking for study abroad opportunities in the hope that she could go overseas. It's a combination of factors, right? There's the technology, there's the narrower space for personal expression. There is the weak economy. There's housing in cities. All these things add up.

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State at the United States of America speaks at a press conference at the USA Embassy in Beijing, China on April 26, 2024.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China on April 26. Stefen Chow for NPR hide caption

Inskeep: As you know, John, we interviewed Secretary of State Antony Blinken , who was meeting with Chinese officials and trying to continue to work through a relationship that's not going to get better any time soon, but they want to at least make sure that things function. So that continued tension is a given. But on a basic level, when you talk with ordinary Chinese people, what kinds of things do you hear about the United States or their interest in the United States or even their interest in living in the United States?

Ruwitch: It's a tough question, after the people who were just stabbed in the park. And we still don't know the reason for that. There were four educators on an exchange from Iowa. They were in a park in the city of Jilin in northeastern China. According to state media, there had been some altercation between one of them and some Chinese man, and then he stabbed four of them. They're getting treatment right now... I feel like for the most part, though, people in China, when I tell them I'm from the United States, there's not any animosity. There's still some reverence for the U.S. in a way as a country that is, first of all, richer than China on a per capita basis, and secondly, has freedoms that China doesn't have.

Blinken tells China it's in their interest to stop helping Russia

Interview highlights

Blinken tells china it's in their interest to stop helping russia.

This story was edited for digital by Obed Manuel.

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Text: A A A Print Economy

  • Trade, tourism boost growth momentum of Chinese economy

Imports and exports going through key transportation hubs in China have witnessed growth during the first half of the year, boosting the Chinese economy together with an increasingly hot tourism market, CCTV.com reported on Sunday.

As the most important transportation hub between China and Central Asia and Central Europe, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region registered total foreign trade volume of 185.64 billion yuan ($25.54 billion) from Jan to May this year, up 52.1 percent on a yearly basis, ranking second in terms of growth rate nationwide.

Alashankou Port and Khorgos Port in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region are the two most important railway ports to Central Asia and Europe in China, with more than 40 percent of China-Europe freight trains passing through these two ports. This year, the number of China-Europe (or China-Asia) freight trains passing through these two ports exceeds 40 daily.

In the first half of 2024, 7,746 China-Europe freight train trips passed through the Alashankou and Khorgos ports, an increase of 8.2 percent year-on-year, the report said.

Nowadays, the category of goods transported at the two ports has increased from the original daily necessities and ores to more than 200 kinds, including wood, chemicals, machineries, cotton yarn, building materials, new energy vehicles, and electronic products.

In recent years, home-made new energy vehicles have become popular overseas, and cars from Chengdu, Chongqing, Xi'an, Zhengzhou and other places are exported to Central Asia, Europe and other regions via Alashankou and Khorgos ports, providing strong support for promoting the construction of the core area of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

With the arrival of graduation season and summer vacation, the tourism market around China is also ushering in the summer peak season. With the expansion of China's visa-free countries, the number of foreign tourists entering the country has increased significantly.

Latest data show that during the summer rush from July 1 to Aug 31, the number of air ticket bookings from various provinces and regions in China to and from Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region increased by about 27 percent compared with the same period in 2023.

As an important transportation hub in East China, Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport currently operates more than 30 international (regional) passenger routes, serving 21 countries on four continents, and more than 500 inbound and outbound passenger flights per week.

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  5. Coronavirus: China's tourism industry thriving as world battles COVID

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  6. China’s summer tourism grinds to halt as coronavirus Delta variant

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  1. Travel to China 2024/2025: Entry Requirements, Visas, Tours

    China Travel Restrictions & Travel Advisory (Updated June 17, 2024) Visa-Free Access to China: If you're from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, and Poland, you can visit China visa-free for 15 days until December 31st, 2025.

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    China Travel Advisory. Updated due to new national security legislation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Summary: Reconsider travel to Mainland China due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions. Exercise increased caution when traveling to the Hong Kong ...

  7. China Travel Restrictions 2021/2022: An Explainer (Updated)

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  11. China to resume issuing passports for tourism as COVID controls fall

    China says it will resume issuing passports for tourism in another big step away from anti-virus controls that isolated the country for almost three years.

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  17. Traveling to China 2023

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  18. Does the COVID-19 pandemic affect the tourism industry in China

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  25. In China, small clues show big realities : NPR

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  26. New Changes in Chinese Urban Tourism Pattern under the Impact of COVID

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  27. Chinese government response to COVID-19

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  29. Trade, tourism boost growth momentum of Chinese economy

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