China will resume outbound group tours for Chinese citizens to another 40 countries including Nepal, Vietnam, Iran, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Brazil starting from March 15, China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced on Friday. It is the second batch of destinations in China's pilot program for out-bound group tours, after the country resumed cross-border group tours to the first batch of 20 countries and regions on February 6.
The move to expand the number of destinations comes as China's overseas tourism industry has been on a firm trajectory of quick recovery during the past month, and as more countries are pinning their hopes on the return of Chinese tourists to shore up a post-virus economic rebound. The return of more Chinese travelers is also expected to provide a much-needed boost to the global tourism industry and channel optimism into the global economy, observers pointed out.
Travel agencies and online tourism companies could release and launch prod-ucts, promotions and other preparation work starting on Friday, the notice said.
The 40 countries in the second batch span Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania and Latin America, and will bring the total number of countries and regions in the pilot program to 60 from March 15.
South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the US, which were ranked among the top 15 overseas destinations by Chinese visitors in 2019 before the pandemic out-break, are not in the second batch. Some of the four countries have not lifted COVID-19 control restrictions for travelers from China.
Searches for international flight tickets jumped 185 percent in an hour on Fri-day after the notice was published, data from Alibaba-owned travel platform Fliggy showed.
"It is another policy boost for the tourism industry [after the first phase of the pilot program], which has been embarking on a quick recovery. It also shows the resumption is being carried out in a phased, stable and orderly manner, which is beneficial to guaranteeing the safety and experience of outbound Chinese tourists," Xu Xiaolei, marketing manager at China's CYTS Tours Holding Co, told the Global Times on Friday.
Among the 40 countries, flights to Vietnam are fairly regular and affordable, while ticket prices to European countries remain relatively high, data sent by Trip.com to the Global Times showed.
Vietnam's aviation sector stocks saw gains on Thursday, after Vietnam media reported the same day that China would add it to the list of countries approved for outbound tours. China has traditionally been Vietnam's largest tourism partner.
To date, Asian countries and regions are among the most popular tourist destinations, making up more than 80 percent of the growth in outbound flights from February 27 to March 5, according to data from VariFlight, a data infor-mation provider.
The resumption of group tour services to more countries also comes a bit ear-lier than the industry had expected, as some predicted that more countries would be added at the end of first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter, to take advantage of the traditional "travel golden period" starting from May.
Xu expects China's outbound travel to return to between 50 and 60 percent of the 2019 level this year. China's resumption of outbound group tours could bring more than $200 billion back to international tourism, the Financial Times reported in January.
In the past month, visa enquires rose 87 percent on online travel agency TravelGo, and in another platform Qunar.com, bookings for international flights doubled in February compared with January, with the volume of visa searches growing sixfold.
Source: Global Times