Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia are banking on their visa waivers to entice numerous Chinese travelers gearing up for trips abroad during the Spring Festival holiday.
Wei Meng, a 44-year-old Chinese engineer and aviation enthusiast, perfectly fits the profile of the visitors these countries are aiming to attract. With Singapore lifting visa requirements for Chinese citizens, Wei altered his plans, opting for a six-day vacation there instead of heading to Australia. He considered visiting Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, the two other visa-free Southeast Asian destinations, but ultimately chose Singapore due to the upcoming Singapore Airshow, set to open to the public on Feb 24.
As the first Spring Festival holiday since Beijing relaxed pandemic travel restrictions approaches, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia are hopeful that their unprecedented visa waivers will draw a significant portion of Chinese travelers and their valuable spending.
Chinese travelers often lament the time and effort required to obtain travel visas, and their passport ranks 62nd on the Henley Passport Index, reflecting the number of destinations accessible without prior visas. While visa waivers enhance a destination’s appeal, analysts suggest that China’s slowing economic growth, job insecurities, and declining income may temper outbound travel.
Despite fewer Chinese travelers compared to pre-pandemic levels, they remain a crucial revenue source for destinations like Thailand, where they comprised over a quarter of all visitors in 2019. In Singapore, Chinese tourists were the highest spenders, contributing over S$4 billion ($3 billion) in the same year.
Although the number of Chinese travelers is currently lower than before the pandemic, Thailand expects a significant increase during the Lunar New Year holiday, following the launch of its visa waiver program in September. Similarly, Malaysia, which initiated its visa-free arrangement for Chinese visitors in December, anticipates attracting 5-7 million Chinese tourists this year, nearly double pre-pandemic figures.
Hotels, including those under The Ascott Limited group, are rolling out promotions such as discounts and special festival-themed activities and snacks for the Lunar New Year to appeal to Chinese travelers.
Singapore maintains its edge as an Asian air traffic hub, facilitating the influx of Chinese visitors with a nearly 5% increase in direct flights from mainland China compared to the same month in 2019. Meanwhile, Malaysia and Thailand still lag in direct flight connectivity, with a 33% and 17% reduction, respectively, compared to 2019 levels, according to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium.
($1 = 35.5200 baht) ($1 = 1.3428 Singapore dollars)
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