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'A very positive trend' - Chinese tourism boosting industry's post-pandemic rebound, says UN expert



WATCH: International tourism industry discussed on CGTN Europe 

Global tourism is finally returning to pre-pandemic levels, with international travel last year reaching nearly 90 percent of 2019 levels. And according to one UN tourism expert, China's return to the world of jet-setting and globetrotting couldn't be playing a more important role. 

With the tourism industry contributing $3.3 trillion to the global economy in 2023 - 3 percent of the global economy - Sandra Carvao, the director of market intelligence and competitiveness at the UN's World Tourism Organization, says the travel rebound is shaping up nicely according to the data. 

In fact, experts are now predicting positive growth in the industry for the first time in years, she tells CGTN Europe. 

"Our first scenarios for next year point to the fact that we will not only reach the level of pre-pandemic [tourism] in 2024. But, our central forecast is that we can even exceed it, by around 2 percent," says Carvao.  

The key factor leading to this conclusion is obviously the end of pandemic lockdowns. And that's where China has such an impact. 

With outbound tourism spending by Chinese travelers going up tenfold between 2006 and 2019, China hit the top of the international tourism spending ranking. It even managed to hold that position through the pandemic, despite the travel restrictions. But that's not to say its return to the industry is not welcome. 


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"In 2020, at the peak of the pandemic impact, [China] lost around 70 percent of all international travel, which means we went back to levels of 30 years ago. So just imagine how much this industry has been affected," adds Carvao. 

That makes the resumption of Chinese tourism all the more important. "China is definitely one of the key source markets," says Carvao. "It was the first spender in international tourism pre-pandemic, so the return of the Chinese outbound [tourist] is very much welcome news, particularly for Asian destinations."

She says that currently Chinese money going into the industry is already following a "very positive trend," - just 26 percent behind pre-pandemic levels only a year after Beijing lifted travel restrictions. "So we do expect that to be consolidated in 2024," she adds.

On the domestic tourism front, China is also hoping to lure travelers back with a slew of new incentives, including visa simplification and improved airline capacity. Beijing recently granted visa free travel to visitors from Switzerland, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia. And the Spring Festival holiday next month is likely to bolster the global tourism rebound.

Tourism in China continues to bounce back following Covid./ CFP
Tourism in China continues to bounce back following Covid./ CFP

Tourism in China continues to bounce back following Covid./ CFP

Meanwhile, European countries are also benefitting from the return of international travel. In fact, many smaller destinations had impressively good results in 2023, according to Carvao.

"We're talking about Albania, Serbia, Andorra. Many of those countries have far surpassed their levels in 2019," she says. In the case of Portugal and Turkiye, she adds, they are already seeing tourism earnings surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

As for the wider market, there had been concerns that the war in Gaza, and its potential to spill over into other Middle Eastern countries, could turn tourists off from visiting the area. However, Carvao says the region has done surprisingly well in the last year. 

"The Middle East was the only region globally that had already surpassed pre-pandemic levels," she says. "International travel there increased by 22 percent in 2023." And despite the ongoing fighting in and around Gaza, the data for December 2023 continues to follow that trend. 

"In the first half of next year, the bookings are pretty positive," she says. As is the case for the global industry, the tourism expert adds, "data shows, for the moment, that we could see the region continue to grow."

'A very positive trend' - Chinese tourism boosting industry's post-pandemic rebound, says UN expert

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