Rebounding Chinese domestic tourism will support Expo 2020 Dubai - experts

The desire to travel begins at home, said ATM panellists, and is a precursor to a rebound in international travel once borders open

Day one at Arabian Travel Market. Image courtesy Dubai Media Office Twitter handle.

Day one at Arabian Travel Market. Image courtesy Dubai Media Office Twitter handle.

A surge in Chinese domestic tourism over its recent May Day holiday is being taken as a positive sign for a resurgence in international travel, once borders open post-pandemic.

Panellists at a China Tourism Forum at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai were optimistic that the boost in Chinese domestic travel would be followed by a rapid return to international travel once it becomes possible.

The return of Chinese domestic travel bodes well for Expo 2020, the forum heard.

Shanghai Expo in 2010 attracted 73 million visitors, and Sumathi Ramanathan, global destination marketing director, Expo 2020 Dubai, said China was one of the top five source markets, not only for Dubai but for the whole of the UAE.

The Chinese are Expo enthusiasts, she said, and there was significantly high interest from the country in visiting Expo 2020 Dubai.

The multi-month Expo 2020 Dubai starts in October. The priority markets are China, India, Russia, the US, UK, Germany and the Gulf.

“We believe that the precursor to international travel market actually starts at home. The recovery of the domestic travel market in China is a fantastic signal for us.

“As soon as the borders open up, that visitation from China will actually come back to the fore. We also have one of the biggest participations from China at Expo 2020 Dubai,” Ramanathan said.

The forum heard that China has been the largest outbound tourist market since 2012 and spent $255 billion on it in 2019 - three times as much as Germany, twice as much as the USA four times as much as the UK and five times as much as France.

A snapshot of a single day domestic bookings in May 2021 compared with May 2019 showed a huge leap, with flight bookings increasing by 28 percent, attraction bookings by 449 percent and rent-a-car services by 330 percent, Dr Adam Wu, CEO, CBN Travel, & MICE & World Travel Online, said.

“This strong rebound in travel, even during a pandemic, proves that people do not wish to be locked down for long,” he said. The boost in private car rental signalled a change in the way people wish to travel post pandemic, he said.

Zayed R Alzayani, Bahrain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, said the kingdom had been working towards expanding tourist links with China prior to the pandemic.

“China was on our priority list [for expanding tourism] at the end of 2019, along with other further away markets such as Japan, Korea, Australia and North America, but we were hit with COVID, and that put interruption to all our plans,” he said. 

“However, we are still committed to going back to the Chinese market, we are very fascinated to see the numbers [Dr. Wu] shared with us, showing a strong rebound on domestic tourism, which I think will have a positive effect on the global market as well,” Alzayani added.

(Reporting by Imogen Lillywhite; editing by Seban Scaria)

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