Operators are gearing up to restart tours in China after Beijing announced the relaxation of international Covid-19 travel restrictions in place for the past three years.
However, there remains concern about the UK government’s reintroduction of Covid-19 testing requirements on arrivals from mainland China.
Julie FitzGerald, Asia general manager at G Adventures, said: “The recent relaxation of China’s Covid rules has allowed a small amount of flexibility, with certain visa types now being allowed into the country, such as business, those reuniting with family and commercial and trade.
“The changes do not, however, support the return of international inbound tourism and more information on the reinstatement of tourism visas isn’t expected until after the National People’s Congress in March.
“If tourism is reinstated, we expect lead times to be slow and, with Covid cases high at the moment, it may take time for travellers to feel confident to visit.
“G Adventures has relaunched trips to China from September 2023, allowing for pent-up demand and consumer confidence to grow over the summer.
“The introduction of new testing regimes for travellers from China, such as compulsory pre-flight testing, testing on arrival and mandatory quarantine will definitely be a blocker for outbound tourism.”
Wendy Wu Tours is also preparing to operate its first group tours in more than three years, currently expected to run from September this year.
The specialist said it saw one of its busiest weeks for China enquiries since 2019, following announcements on December 27 of the borders reopening from January 8 – and is preparing for one of the busiest times in its 25-year history.
Gary King, head of trade sales at Wendy Wu Tours, said: “Wendy Wu Tours are ready to step into action with our first group tours as soon as we receive the green light from China, which, following the border opening announcement, is now imminent.
“Demand is strong, particularly for the autumn tours running through September to November, plus we’ve seen a steady spike for bookings throughout 2024 and even to 2025.
“We are encouraging agents to keep a close eye on our agents’ website and socials for full details of the reopening plus dates for our first departures.
“The country has had three years without tourism to rejuvenate and refresh and so as preparations begin to reopen the borders, China is eagerly looking forward to welcoming visitors again, with a touring experience that promises to be as fresh and captivating, as one resembling 25 years ago when we started the first group tours to China.”
A spokesperson for Intrepid Travel said the adventure operator is planning to go ahead with departures scheduled for late April and May.
“At Intrepid we are beginning to see more interest from travellers who are keen to visit China in 2023, but numbers are still far off pre-pandemic levels,” she said.
“We are expecting the whole of Asia to have a big tourism revival this year as customers finally visit the countries that were the first to close, and some of the last to open, their borders during the pandemic.
“Heading into 2023, one of our best-selling China tours is the new Tibet: Beijing to Kathmandu Overland, which includes a trip on one of the world’s greatest overland train journeys, and walking the epic Great Wall’s Mutianyu section.
“China Experience, which travels from Beijing to Hong Kong over 19 days, is looking popular as well.”
Charlie Wakeham, head of marketing at Mercury Holidays, said he was “cautiously optimistic, although there is a long way to go”.
The company started its escorted tours programme with China and until 2020 it was the top destination.
Searches for China have increased on the Mercury website since China announced it will relax Covid rules but some of that interest might be partly due to peaks marketing, said Wakeham.
“We are quietly confident, and hopeful for tourism visas to be reinstated,” he said.
Departures for Mercury tours are from September onwards and the operator remains keen to work with the trade.