First witch: When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain?
Second witch: When the hurly-burly’s done. When the battle’s lost and won.
Shakespeare: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1
The world watches in disbelief and desperation as SARS-COV2 is racing through mainland China, after being kept at bay under enormous economic and social costs for almost three years. The Whac-A-Mole game of Zero-Case policy, which reacted to single cases of infection with lockdowns for 15 million people, was lost in November last year when Omicron started to infect and kill poorly protected citizens in all provinces. In early December the Chinese leadership could no longer deny that “the hurly-burly’s done” and made a complete u-turn, calling COVID-19 a harmless fever instead of a deadly disease smuggled into China by the USA and ending all precautions which had governed the lives of the urban Chinese for so long.
Now, a few days before Chinese New Year, the Peking University declared that 900 million Chinese had been infected – two thirds of the population and much more than the 670 million infected human beings in the statistics for the rest of the world. The migrant workers returning for the festive season back to their villages will make sure that the remaining 500 million Chinese will be infected as well. Outside China, 1% of those infected died from or with COVID-19. Considering the low level of updated vaccinations, the lack of exposure to the virus in past years and the underdeveloped health system in rural China, such a mortality rate is unfortunately to be expected again – especially among older citizens – to a heartbreaking 14 million fatalities.
So, “the battle’s lost and won”. Lost for those who grieve and realise that all the hardship of the last three years was in vain and for the credibility and power of the “President of everything”, Chairman Xi, who might already indeed have lost more of his power within the party that meets the eye. And won by reaching herd immunity with Chinese characteristics in a whirlwind, providing the ground for a faster economic recovery with Spring around the corner.
Among the winners will be the global tourism industry, which can finally expect the long-awaited new wave of Chinese outbound travellers. Since January 8th this month, Hong Kong SAR and Macau SAR are open for Chinese visitors and passports started to be issued on the same day. The Chinese National Health Commission made an announcement on December 26th last year that “Outbound travel of Chinese nationals will be restored in an orderly manner according to the international epidemic situation and the capacity of various services”.
It will take some time before the consulates in China have enough officers again to cope with the visa applications and the airlines upgrade the currently 10% of available seats compared to 2019.
However, after Easter, joining the business travellers and the students who have already started to travel, the pent up demand will translate into leisure trips to the surrounding region but also to new destinations waiting to be discovered. The hysteria about the Chinese allegedly bringing new mutations to other countries will have subsided by then .
Post-pandemic Chinese will have very different demands and expectations and the global tourism industry is in need of updated knowledge, training and adapted products to regain their China-readiness. Those who can provide customised services to specific market segments will not only win satisfied customers, but will also be able to interest their peers through recommendation marketing.
Outdoor activities, immersion into local culture and fine dining experiences will push shopping from the position of most important activity and sightings of mass-market package tour travellers following the flag of their tour guide will become less frequent.
COTRI forecasts 35-40 million outbound trips in the first half of 2023 and another 70-80 million in the second half of the year, bringing the total up to around 110 million trips – representing 2/3 of the pre-pandemic level. For 2024 the 170 million trips of 2019 will be reached again. That is, as long as we do not encounter a new period of “thunder, lightning, or rain”.