Applications for visas soar before holiday
Chinese travelers have shown ever-increasing enthusiasm for traveling abroad this year, and the trend is on track to become more prominent for the rest of the year, fueling a growing demand for visa applications.
The upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday, which land at the same time this year, form an eight-day period from Friday to Oct 6, and more Chinese visitors are foreseen to venture overseas during the holidays.
Thailand, a popular destination for Chinese residents, announced earlier this month that it has decided to waive visa requirements for Chinese travelers for five months, which will begin on Monday and run until Feb 29, 2024.
Following the announcement, searches for flight tickets to Thailand and its hotels surged immediately on different online travel platforms in China. Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket are among the top three most popular destinations in Thailand, according to data from Mafengwo, a travel service and social networking platform.
As of mid-September, booking volumes for hotels in Thailand during the National Day holiday soared 6,220 percent year-on-year, according to Trip.com Group, China's largest online travel agency.
The implementation of the visa-free policy is expected to attract more Chinese travelers to visit Thailand in the fourth quarter.
"The five-month visa-free policy will cover a period with some important Chinese holidays, such as the National Day holiday and Spring Festival. We have already seen a hot rise in bookings of travel products to Thailand for the National Day holiday," said Fan Dongxiao, director of short-haul trips at Tuniu Corp, a Nanjing, Jiangsu province-based online travel agency.
"The gradual cooling of temperatures in autumn and winter in China is also expected to further stimulate consumer willingness to travel to Southeast Asian countries," Fan said.
Tuniu said it has been constantly upgrading travel products related to Thailand. In addition to some regular group tour options, it has introduced smaller and tailored tour products to cater to diversified personal demand.
Since China optimized its COVID-19 response measures and resumed quarantine-free international travel in January, demand for travel abroad has risen continuously.
Visa service agency VFS said since March, it has witnessed surging reservations for visa applications to different countries. As of May, visa applications from Chinese residents reached 40 percent of the 2019 level before the pandemic. The agency expects that demand for visa applications is likely to remain high throughout the year.
For visa applications to most European countries, travel agencies usually help Chinese travelers make reservations one and a half months in advance. According to the official website of VFS, for many Chinese cities, it shows that there are no available time slots in the near future to apply for a short-term Schengen visa for Germany.
VFS said the outlook for 2023 looks highly optimistic. Overseas destinations with a high demand for Chinese tourist visa applications include Canada, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.
On Aug 10, China announced the resumption of tour groups to an additional 78 countries, bringing the total number to 138 countries. The latest list includes popular destinations such as South Korea, Japan, the US, the UK and Australia.
Fliggy, the travel arm of Alibaba Group, said South Korea, India, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden, which are listed in the latest group of overseas destinations to which China resumed group tours, have seen high booking volumes for local entertainment and services.
The company has also helped tourism retailers, especially new business firms, lower their operational difficulties on the platform and thus support revitalization of the tourism market. Such measures have encouraged more retailers to launch their businesses on the platform, Fliggy said.
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