Macau, Hong Kong favored by Chinese tourists; Asian hopes fizzle

The Chinese territories of Macau and Hong Kong appear to be the most favored destinations, according to travel agencies.

Just days before Sunday’s start of the Lunar New Year, iconic tourist spots like historic Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Paul’s, were packed.

Gambling floors at two major casinos were largely full, with groups of Chinese visitors sitting around the craps tables, The Associated Press reported yesterday.

“I’m so busy every day and don’t have time to rest,” said souvenir shop owner Lee Hong-soi. He said sales had recovered to about 70%-80% of the pre-pandemic days from nearly nothing just weeks ago.

Kathy Lin was visiting from Shanghai, partly because it was easy to get a visa but also because she was concerned about risks of catching COVID-19. “I don’t dare to travel overseas yet,” she said and she and a friend took photos near the ruins, originally the 17th century Church of Mater Dei.

That worry is keeping many would-be vacation goers at home even after China relaxed “zero-COVID” restrictions that sought to isolate all cases with mass testing and onerous quarantine requirements.

“The elderly in my family have not been infected, and I don’t want to take any risks. There’s also the possibility of being infected again by other variants,” said Zheng Xiaoli, 44, an elevator company employee in southern China’s Guangzhou. Africa was on her bucket list before the pandemic, but despite yearning to travel overseas, she said, “there are still uncertainties, so I will exercise restraint.”

Cong Yitao, an auditor living in Beijing, is not worried about catching the virus since his whole family has already had COVID-19. But he was put off by testing restrictions and other limits imposed by some countries, including the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Australia, after China loosened its pandemic precautions.

“It seems like many countries are not welcoming us,” said Cong, who instead was planning to head for a subtropical destination in China, like Hainan island or Xishuangbanna, to enjoy some warm weather.

A desired boom in Chinese tourism in Asia over the Lunar New Year holidays looks set to be more of a blip as most travelers opt to stay within China.

From the beaches of Bali to Hokkaido’s powdery ski slopes, the hordes of Chinese tourists often seen in pre-COVID days will still be missing, tour operators say.

It is bitterly disappointing for many businesses who had hoped that lean pandemic times were over after Beijing relaxed restrictions on travel and stopped requiring weeks’ long quarantines. Still, bookings for overseas travel have skyrocketed, suggesting it is only a matter of time until the industry recovers.

“I think the tourists will return around the end of February or early March at the earliest,” said Sisdivachr Cheewarattaporn, the president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, noting that many Chinese people lack passports, flights are limited and tour operators are still gearing up to handle group travel.

COVID-19 risks are another big factor as outbreaks persist following the policy about-face in China, he said in an interview with the AP. “People may not be ready, or are just getting ready.”

According to, reservations for travel to Southeast Asia were up 10-fold, with Thailand a top choice, followed by Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Tourism Australia forecasts that spending by international travelers will surpass pre-pandemic levels within a year’s time. PC/Agencies

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