Asian airlines cautiously welcome China’s reopening

By Paloma Almoguera

Singapore, Jan 10 (EFE).- Asian airline companies have responded cautiously to Beijing reopening its borders amid a sudden rush of Chinese tourists booking flights to destinations like Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Japan.

When Beijing announced it was lifting nearly all remaining pandemic restrictions and that it was ready to reopen its borders, the volume of airline tickets purchased from China rocketed with Trip.com saying foreign flight reservations increased by 254% in late December.

Of all the destinations, Singapore was ranked the highest, with flight bookings climbing by 600%, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand, which recorded a 400% spike in bookings, according to the travel website. 

SINGAPORE AND THAILAND 

Singapore has not imposed special checks on travelers arriving from China and has reported that, so far, the volume of visitors remains low and at almost 10% compared to pre-Covid 19 levels, according to health minister, Ong Ye Kung.

Singapore Airlines (SIA), has reinstated its five weekly flights to Beijing, and the low-cost Scoot airline, a SIA subsidiary, is operating its weekly flights to seven cities in China.

“Airlines are following the situation in China closely,” Shukor Yusof, an aviation expert from Endau Analytics, told Efe.

“Nobody is rushing to increase flights until the demand and requirements are fully understood,” Yusof added.

Chinese tourists (C) and other foreign tourists visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, one of Bangkok’s most popular tourist attractions, in Bangkok, Thailand, 10 January 2023. EFE/EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

Thailand lifted all its pandemic restrictions this month and only kept PCR tests for countries that continue to require them before departure, like China and India.

State-owned Thai Airways will reinstate its weekly Chengdu-Bangkok flight on January 19, and the low-cost Thai AirAsia airline is looking to reopen over 13 routes that it covered across China.

Thailand relies heavily on Chinese tourism and authorities are expecting some 5 million visitors this year, according to Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA 

Meanwhile, both South Korea and Japan have rolled out new rules for Chinese arrivals.

Passengers coming from China are now required to provide a negative Covid test before leaving the country and upon arrival in South Korea. Travelers who test positive for Covid-19 have to observe a seven-day quarantine.

Seoul also said it would restrict short-term visas to Chinese residents until the end of January and has not increased the number of air routes between the two nations since China reopened its borders. 

South Korean police officers stand guard in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, 10 January 2023. China announced the suspension on 10 January of its short-term visa service for South Koreans. EFE/EPA/JEON HEON-KYUN

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has announced similar measures.

He has assured the government that he will continue to ask airlines not to increase the number of direct flights between Japan and China after the deluge of infections that followed the dismantling of Beijing’s zero-Covid policy.

Beijing on Tuesday stopped issuing visas to inbound visitors from South Korea and Japan in retaliation to new restrictions imposed by both countries on arrivals from China.

The Chinese embassy in Seoul announced the decision to not grant short-term visas for “Korean citizens visiting China, business, tourism, medical treatment, transit and general private affairs,” a statement read. 

“The above measures will be adjusted depending on the cancellation of South Korea’s discriminatory entry restrictions on China” it added. 

Camera: EFE/EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

ALL EYES ON CHINA

After almost three years of strict lockdowns and in the wake of China’s scrapping of Covid restrictions, all eyes are on the Asian giant to see how authorities and airlines deal with a very sudden revival in travel interest.

There are many unknowns, including how Chinese airports will cope with the return of large groups of travelers and whether they have the systems in place or the capacity to deal with a sudden surge in tourists.

Chinese news website Caixin reported that aviation experts expected to see a “very optimistic” scenario with international flights to and from China returning to pre-pandemic levels by the summer. 

But amid the unknowns is the possible emergence of a new Covid-19 variant that could put the brakes on the reopening of the Chinese economy and whether the industry will be able to deal with an increased demand amid the ongoing war in Ukraine and the global energy crunch.EFE

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