A few months ago, many Chinese were afraid to travel outbound, even if the borders were to be reopened. Besides travel restrictions, closed museums and restaurants, quarantine on return and expensive flights or no flights at all, the fear to get infected overseas prevailed.
A new sentiment survey by Dragon Trail shows how much the tide has turned. All destinations surveyed with the exception of the USA are not considered as dangerous anymore by more than half the outbound travellers. The most important trigger to travel is now the freedom to travel without the need for a quarantine either in the destination or after returning to China. Only 10% still say that they are not considering outbound travel. For first-time visits France, Australia and Germany top the list, Japan, USA and Thailand are the destinations favoured for repeat visits.
At the same time, another development becomes apparent. The louder the criticism of the zero case policy from foreigners inside and outside China, and the bigger the economic damage resulting from the lockdowns and other restrictions, the more stubborn the arguments and the defence of government policy on social media like LinkedIn become. Authors are not only Chinese but also foreigners living in China. It is hard to know if they argue out of conviction or if they are directly or indirectly paid for promoting government positions and moving discussions away from key topics, as is typical of the so-called Wumao in other discussions on for instance BBC reports on China. They certainly do not represent the sentiment of the majority of expats in China. Half of them, some surveys show, have already left China, most of them without the intention to return.
The gap of missing Chinese visitors within the restart of international tourism is of course especially serious for neighbouring destinations like Vietnam or Thailand. Worst of all hit is Hong Kong SAR, which is fast losing its position as an important hub and halfway-house between the Western world and China. Comments on Social Media, for example, “Before HK’s 1997 Handover to China, HK was a colonial slave colony then. Today, HK is a struggling 4th-tier Chinese city. .. There is nothing particularly unique or outstanding about HK residents who are just PRC citizens” are rather supporting the decision of many ex-pats to leave Hong Kong.
At the end of the week, an election with Chinese characteristics will bring a new Hong Kong Chief Executive into the highest office of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The Chief Secretary, John Lee, is the sole candidate approved by China and therefore the only candidate nominated. He does not appear to have the recovery of freedom of speech and rule of law very high on his agenda, even though only half of the 50 years will be over by the end of June, for which Deng Xiaoping promised that the horses will continue to run and the people will continue to dance in the incense harbour (no, Hong Kong does not mean Fragrant Harbour, but Harbour from which incense is shipped, as was the case before the Ming ordered everybody to stay away from the coast at the beginning of their reign). But then, Deng Xiaoping himself is not mentioned often anymore in today’s China.
In Europe, the horses run and the dancers dance again in tourism. Some destinations will probably see the best summer results ever (assuming that the whole show is not cancelled by the nervous index finger of Mr. Putin). Some are even starting to think about how to prepare better for the Chinese visitors when they will finally come to visit again. If you are one of them, give us a call!
For the moment, let us hope that the decreasing numbers of deaths from CoViD-19 in Shanghai reflect a real trend and that lockdowns and suffering will end – better sooner than later.
As always, all best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI WEEKLY team!