China has lifted pandemic-era restrictions on group tours for more countries, including key markets such as the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia in a potential boon for their tourism industries.
The decision was announced by China’s culture and tourism ministry on Thursday, effective immediately.
Prior to the pandemic, mainland Chinese tourists spent more than any other country’s tourists when abroad, clocking up a combined $255 billion in 2019 with group tours estimated to account for roughly 60% of that.
Their absence since the pandemic has led to financial troubles for many tourism-dependent businesses around the globe.
Germany and Britain were also among the countries for which restrictions were lifted but Canada, which has had especially politically fraught relations with China of late, was not reinstated.
It was the third list of countries to receive approvals. The first batch approved in January included 20 countries such as Thailand, Russia, Cuba and Argentina. The second batch in March included 40 countries, among them Nepal, France, Portugal and Brazil.
China has never explained its staggered approach to approvals but analysts have noted that the countries taking time to gain approval have had more political and/or trade tension with the world’s second-largest economy.
“It’s a milestone for the full resumption of the outbound travel, and will also strongly push the resumption of international flights, especially for Japan, Korea, the U.S.,” said Zhou Weihong, deputy general manager at Spring Tour, the travel arm of Shanghai-based Spring Group.
Shares in firms in the latest group of countries with large exposure to Chinese travel demand jumped on the news. Gains for South Korean casino operators were particularly striking with Grand Korea Leisure (114090.KS) and Paradise (034230.KQ) surging 21% and 17% respectively.
Two sources in South Korea’s travel industry told Reuters it was the first time group tours from China would be allowed on a large scale since a 2016 dispute over Seoul’s deployment of a U.S. missile defence system. China has never publicly acknowledged limiting group tours to South Korea.