Asia travel hotspots quiet as Chinese tourists stay away

Jan 24, 2023, 7:09 AM | Updated: Jan 25, 2023, 4:47 pm
A Chinese tourist poses for a picture at Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, M...

A Chinese tourist poses for a picture at Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Just a handful of Chinese visitors were posing for photos and basking in the sun in the market and plazas near Chiang Mai’s ancient Tha Phae Gate, one of many tourist hotspots still waiting for millions of Chinese travelers to return. (AP Photo/Wichai Thaprieo)

(AP Photo/Wichai Thaprieo)

              Travelers stand in line at the Air China international flight check-in counter at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, on Jan. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
            
              Chinese tourists arrive at Chiang Mai international airport in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, Thailand, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Just a handful of Chinese visitors were posing for photos and basking in the sun in the market and plazas near Chiang Mai’s ancient Tha Phae Gate, one of many tourist hotspots still waiting for millions of Chinese travelers to return. (AP Photo/Wichai Thaprieo)
            
              Travelers fill out an online electronic customs health declaration form before boarding an international flight at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, on Jan. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
            
              Dragon and Lion dance performers welcome Chinese tourists arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Gerard V. Carreon)
            
              Over a hundred Chinese tourists from Xiamen, China arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Gerard V. Carreon)
            
              Chinese tourists from Xiamen, China arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Gerard V. Carreon)
            
              Chinese tourist from Xiamen in China disembark on the tube after arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Gerard V. Carreon)
            
              Hong Kong travelers wearing South Korean traditional "Hanbok" costume watch a smartphone at the Gyeongbok Palace, the main royal palace during the Joseon Dynasty, and one of South Korea's well known landmarks in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan. 18, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
            
              Hong Kong travelers wearing South Korean traditional "Hanbok" costume pose to take photos at the Gyeongbok Palace, the main royal palace during the Joseon Dynasty, and one of South Korea's well known landmarks in Seoul, South Korea on Jan. 16, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
            
              A man prepares beanbag at Kuta beach on the popular tourist island of Bali, Indonesia on  Jan. 20, 2023. The beaches and temples of destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai are the busiest they have been since the pandemic struck three years ago, but they’re still relatively quiet. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)
            
              Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, left, and Philippine Department of Tourism Secretary Cristina Frasco, right, welcome the Chinese nationals arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerard V. Carreon)
            
              Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, partly hidden, and Philippine Department of Tourism Secretary Cristina Frasco welcome the Chinese nationals arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Gerard V. Carreon)
            
              Tourists visit Kuta beach on the popular tourist island of Bali, Indonesia on Jan. 20, 2023. The beaches and temples of destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai are the busiest they have been since the pandemic struck three years ago, but they’re still relatively quiet. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)
            
              A Chinese tourist Niu Jiayi poses for picture near a light sculpture of Year of Rabbit in Bangkok, Thailand on Jan. 20, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
            
              A tourist rides on a horse at Kuta beach on the popular tourist island of Bali, Indonesia on  Jan. 20, 2023. The beaches and temples of destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai are the busiest they have been since the pandemic struck three years ago, but they’re still relatively quiet. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)
            
              Dragon and Lion performers welcome a Chinese tourist arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. (AP Photo/Gerard V. Carreon)
            
              People spend their time at Kuta beach on the popular tourist island of Bali, Indonesia on Jan. 20, 2023. The beaches and temples of destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai are the busiest they have been since the pandemic struck three years ago, but they’re still relatively quiet. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)
            
              Chinese tourists play with pigeons at Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. The beaches and temples of destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai are the busiest they have been since the pandemic struck three years ago, but they’re still relatively quiet. (AP Photo/Wichai Thaprieo)
            
              Chinese tourists tour Pung Tao Gong Chinese Temple in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. The beaches and temples of destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai are the busiest they have been since the pandemic struck three years ago, but they’re still relatively quiet. (AP Photo/Wichai Thaprieo)
            
              A Chinese tourist poses for a picture at Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Just a handful of Chinese visitors were posing for photos and basking in the sun in the market and plazas near Chiang Mai’s ancient Tha Phae Gate, one of many tourist hotspots still waiting for millions of Chinese travelers to return. (AP Photo/Wichai Thaprieo)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) — Just a handful of Chinese visitors were posing for photos and basking in the sun this week in the market and plazas near Chiang Mai’s ancient Tha Phae Gate, one of many tourist hotspots still waiting for millions of Chinese travelers to return.

The beaches and temples of destinations like Bali and Chiang Mai are the busiest they have been since the pandemic struck three years ago, but they’re still relatively quiet.

Still, Chanatip Pansomboon, a soft drinks seller in the Chinatown district of Chiang Mai, a scenic riverside city in northern Thailand, was upbeat. He trusts that with the number of flights from China steadily increasing, it’s only a matter of time.

“If a lot of them can return, it will be great as they have buying power,” Chanatip said.

The expected resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. For now, it’s only individual travelers who can afford to pay, with flights costing more than triple what they normally do, who are venturing abroad.

This includes people like Chen Jiao Jiao, a doctor who was posing for pictures with her children in front of Tha Phae Gate’s red brick wall, escaping the damp chill of Shanghai to enjoy Chiang Mai’s warm sun and cool breezes on her first overseas vacation since the virus surfaced in China in early 2020.

“After three years of pandemic and a severe winter, now it’s opening up,” Chen said. “For we Chinese, the first choice is to visit Chiang Mai because the weather is warm and the people here are very warmhearted.”

In 2019, 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited Chiang Mai, generating 15 billion baht ($450 million) of tourism-related income, money sorely missed across the region as countries shut their borders to most travel.

Group tours are due to resume from Feb. 6, but the number of tourists who will come will depends on how many flights are operating, said Suladda Sarutilawan, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Chiang Mai office. She said the hope is for about 500,000-600,000 visitors from China this year.

Of course more Chinese would like to visit, said Li Wei, a businessman from Shanghai, as he visited the ancient wall with his extended family of seven.

“Since visas and flights are not back to normal yet, maybe tourists will come in the next three months,” Li said.

Far to the south, on the tropical Indonesian resort island of Bali, the shops and restaurants — some decorated with festive red lanterns and red and gold envelopes used for Lunar New Year cash presents — were still relatively empty.

Bali’s first post-pandemic direct flight from China arrived on Sunday, bringing 210 tourists from the southern city of Shenzhen who were greeted with garlands of marigolds and dance performances.

“Before COVID, we worked with travel agents who handled Chinese tourists who brought us guests from China everyday, but since they closed down there are far fewer guests,” said Made Sutarma, a seafood restaurant owner in Bali’s Jimbaran area.

After three long years of almost no customers, Nyoman Wisana, the general manager of a Chinese restaurant, said he was “very happy” to see Chinese tourists return.

Fewer than 23,000 Chinese tourists visited Bali from January-November of last year and only a quarter of the island’s 80 tour operators who mostly handle Chinese clients are operating, said Putu Winastra, chairman of the Bali Association of Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies.

“Actually, we’re very concerned about this,” he said.

Indonesia is developing programs to attract more Chinese tourists, including exploring starting direct flights from major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, he said.

Those who did visit this week seemed elated after enduring many months of strict pandemic controls that put international travel beyond the reach of almost all Chinese.

“I’m feeling fantastic since I haven’t gone abroad and haven’t come to Southeast Asia to spend my holidays for the last three years,” said Li Zhaolong, a tourist enjoying a day at the beach. “Bali is a very beautiful place so I’m very happy coming here.”

Closer to home, casinos in the gambling enclave of Macao and popular tourist spots in Hong Kong, a former British colony, drew bigger crowds than usual but were still empty compared to the days before COVID-19. Normally, places like Hong Kong’s scenic Ocean Park and Wong Tai Sin temple, with its Nine-Dragon Wall, would be packed with visitors from the Chinese mainland.

Leo Guo, who works in the travel industry, brought his wife, daughter, sister and parents for a week filled with visits to Hong Kong Disneyland, Victoria Peak and the skyline-studded harbor, and of course, shopping.

“For mainland Chinese, Hong Kong is a special city different from other Chinese cities,” said Lee. “It’s a top destination for us.”

Further afield in Australia, Sydney-based travel agent Eric Wang said the high cost of travel still appears to be keeping Chinese away even as Chinese airlines increase flights.

Chinese accounted for nearly a third of all tourism spending in Australia before the pandemic, with more than 1.4 million visiting in 2019. Australia, like Japan, the U.S. and some other countries, is requiring visitors coming from China to take COVID-19 tests before departure. But Wang, who works for CBT Holidays, a company specializing in travel to and from China, said he didn’t view that as a serious obstacle.

“It’s more about the airlines, because flights are not back to normal frequency yet so air fares are like five times more expensive,” he said.

___

Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok. Sigit Purwono in Bali, Indonesia, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Alice Fung in Hong Kong and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

___

Find more of AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The logo for OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, appears on a mobile phone, in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 31...
Associated Press

Cheaters beware: ChatGPT maker releases AI detection tool

ChatGPT is trying to curb its reputation as a freewheeling cheating machine with a new tool that can help detect if artificial intelligence wrote it
1 day ago
FILE - Ukrainian soldiers ride in a Humvee in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 21,...
Associated Press

War’s longest battle exacts high price in ‘heart of Ukraine’

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — It used to be that visitors would browse through Bakhmut’s late 19th century buildings, enjoy their walks in its rose-lined lakeside park and revel in the sparkling wines produced in historic underground caves. This city of salt and gypsum mines located around 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Russia’s border was once […]
1 day ago
Pope Francis arrives at Ndolo airport to celebrate Holy Mass, in Kinshasa, Congo, Wednesday Feb. 1,...
Associated Press

1 million flock to pope’s Congo Mass on day of forgiveness

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — An estimated 1 million joyous Congolese poured into the capital’s main airport Wednesday for Pope Francis’ first big Mass in Africa, on a day dedicated to his call for peace and forgiveness in a country wracked by decades of violence. Many of the Congolese faithful spent the night on the vast […]
1 day ago
A view of a placard as ambulance workers stand on the picket line outside Leeds Ambulance Station i...
Associated Press

Day of disruption in UK as thousands join mass walkout

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of schools in the U.K. are closing some or all of their classrooms, train services will be paralyzed and delays are expected at airports Wednesday in what’s shaping up to be the biggest day of industrial action Britain has seen in more than a decade, as unions step up pressure on […]
1 day ago
Police officers escort Andrew Tate, right, handcuffed to his brother Tristan Tate, to the Court of ...
Associated Press

Andrew Tate to appeal second 30-day detention

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Andrew Tate, the divisive influencer and former professional kickboxer who is detained in Romania on suspicion of organized crime and human trafficking appeared at a court in Bucharest on Wednesday to appeal against a second 30-day extension of his detention. Tate, 36, a British-U.S. citizen who has nearly 5 million followers […]
1 day ago
In this photo provided by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, its members search for a r...
Associated Press

Radioactive capsule that fell off truck found in Australia

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Authorities in Western Australia on Wednesday recovered a tiny but dangerous radioactive capsule that fell off a truck while being transported along a 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) highway last month in what an official said was like finding the needle in the haystack. Officials said the capsule the size of a pea was […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Asia travel hotspots quiet as Chinese tourists stay away