When to Really Expect China to Open to Tourism

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China opens borders to the world in 2023; quarantine for entrants ends

When actually waiting for China to open up for tourism

China will begin accepting applications for international charter flights from foreign carriers and airlines of the PRC from January 8, the Civil Aviation Administration said. It is planned that by the summer – autumn of next year everyone will fly, as before the pandemic, that is, without masks and without restrictions on seat occupancy. China is going to cancel the limit of 75% board loading. Regular passenger flights will be carried out in accordance with bilateral agreements on transportation between China and other countries, the ministry said.

The news about the possible opening of China for travel immediately after the New Year holidays raises many questions on Russian market. Against the backdrop of perhaps the toughest of all countries, the “zero tolerance” policy for coronavirus was perceived by some as fake.

However, the very next day, December 27, the official state news agency Xinhua confirmed that from January 8, the coronavirus will indeed be assigned the infectious disease category “B” instead of “A”. This means the abolition of quarantine and other restrictions on those entering the country. In a second report from the same agency, citing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, it says that from January 8, PCR tests for coronavirus will no longer be mandatory for entry into China.

At the same time, foreigners are advised to return them 48 hours before departure and, in case of a positive result, postpone the trip. Despite the mild wording, a number of sources emphasize that a negative test is required to enter the country. It is still difficult to say exactly how the Chinese side will treat compliance with this rule: if it is a recommendation, then there will most likely be no universal checks, and if it is a mandatory condition, then it will definitely not be possible to do without a test.

In addition, foreigners will no longer have to obtain a so-called health code: a health mark on the customs declaration will suffice. Anyone who indicates in it that they are unwell or has symptoms of a cold will be forced to take an antigen test. In case of a positive result, they are advised to go to quarantine in a hotel.

Thus, after January 8, a tourist from Russia will de jure be able to enter China with a negative PCR result done in 48 hours . What about de facto?

Recall that Russians need a visa to enter China. Before the pandemic, a simplified entry procedure was in force between Russia and China, which was suspended back in 2020.

At the end of November this year, Chinese Consul General in Khabarovsk Jiang Xiaoyang said that the deep. The mission facilitates the issuance of certain categories of visas to Russian citizens. But there was no talk of tourist visas – only crew, guest, work, business, family and long-term study visas. Requirements for them correspond to those in force before the pandemic.

On December 27, China's State Council released a document outlining a new procedure for foreign personnel to enter the country. It states that visa exemptions will primarily affect those who come to the country to resume business, work or study activities, as well as to visit relatives and reunite with family.

In addition, the document refers to the resumption of outbound tourism from China as part of the pilot phase of abandoning the “zero tolerance” policy for COVID-19. There is no item on incoming tourism in it.

At the same time, there is still hope for the soon opening of China for tourists. On the same day, December 27, a press conference was held by the official representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, at which, in response to a journalist's question about issuing tourist visas to foreigners, he promised to expedite the resolution of this issue.

According to one version, the border regions will be the first to receive tourists from China, as ground checkpoints can open before airport ones. So, in the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Harbin on December 27, they said that Russia and China are already working on a plan to open ground passenger traffic between the countries. The process will be phased. At the beginning of next year, the quarantine for those entering will be lifted and the rules of stay in China for Russian drivers will be changed. After that, a passenger message will open in test mode at one of the border crossings.

Another possible option is the opening of Hainan for Russian tourists, where there is a special regime: registration of entry documents upon arrival. “Features of the visa-free entry of Russians to Hainan Island enable the Chinese authorities to localize the stay of our tourists there without the right to visit mainland China. This will create an additional safety cushion for both Russians and Chinese citizens. Thus, Hainan can open to tourists earlier than other regions of the country,” said the CEO of China Tour & Business Travel Sergey Jan Sha.

The news about the opening of China was perceived differently in the Russian tourist market. Many players are encouraged by the prospects for the imminent return of such a capacious direction. In their opinion, in a closed Europe, this can be a salvation for tour operators upon entry.

Others treated this information with caution. According to them, given the Chinese bureaucracy, it can take quite a long time from the moment the news is published to the actual tour flow.

The position of the Chinese themselves is of great importance in this matter, many of which are still psychologically unprepared to travel, says Alexander Fedin, director of the Kalina Travel Service tour operator. At the same time, the expert admits that things have moved off the ground, and until this week the prospects for the restoration of tourism with China were much more vague.

The situation with Ukraine remains another deterrent. Representatives of the tour business emphasize that safety is a key condition for travelers from China. Chinese tour operators raise this topic literally in every conversation with Russian partners.

According to the most optimistic forecasts, guests from China will appear in our country after the celebration of the Chinese New Year (from January 21 to 27, 2023). However, most experts tend to be more cautious about the situation.

The head of Visit Murmansk, Oleg Terebenin, believes that the first groups will arrive in Russia no earlier than March next year, when flight programs will be formed and prices for trips will become clear. According to him, this opinion is shared by the leadership of the tourism associations of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan: they believe that the cost of tours for the end user plays no less important role than the geopolitical situation. Now, due to the lack of transportation, ticket prices cannot be called affordable for the mass tourist.

Ivan Vvedensky, chairman of the board of the World Without Borders association, added that the Russian side could also delay the process of resuming tourism between China and the Russian Federation: “Real” tourism will begin only after the visa-free travel ban is lifted. The preparation of the relevant government decree, which will be handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Development, may drag on for an indefinite period. Including due to the liquidation of the Rostourism, which has not yet managed to transfer the business to the successor. According to experts, the Russian Foreign Ministry has long been the proposal of the Chinese side to agree on a new mechanism for visa-free travel, to a greater extent protecting the rights of tourists. However, there is still no response from the ministry.

Another key issue requiring an urgent solution is settlements between enterprises and payment for services by tourists on the spot. Economics Minister Maxim Reshetnikov recently announced that the government plans to create a so-called “Tourist Card” based on the Mir system, but it is clear that this process will also take some time.

According to the representative of the PCT, during the pandemic in China, most tour operators went bankrupt, only state-owned companies survived. Even major players could not stay afloat, including the tour operator Utour, which regularly sent large groups of tourists to Russia. Therefore, a certain time lag is inevitable, which cannot be overcome by any pent-up demand. And those who, despite the pandemic, maintained and developed business ties and participated in exhibitions and events, will be the first to start working, Folko specified.

But the main stumbling block, according to experts, will be the lack of « air” and, as a result, expensive tickets. The number of flights to China is now very limited, and there is little room for increasing them: this requires long-haul aircraft that can fly abroad. And such, for obvious reasons, are in short supply in Russia. This problem is partially solved by foreign airlines, but you should not expect charters and cheap tickets from them. The chances of subsidizing flights in a crisis are quite small, and no one will work in the red.

Ivan Vvedensky sees a solution to this problem through connections in Tashkent, Alma-Ata and other hubs of the CIS countries and SCO. In his opinion, this opens up scope for expanding the geography of travel: now, instead of combined tours of Russia + Europe, tourists can be offered to visit transit countries.

 

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