Mark Tanner
20 October 2021 0 Comments

The news was looking grim late last month when Beijing announced that snow sports fans would not be allowed to enter the mainland to watch next February’s Olympics. China doesn’t have quite the same imperative to showcase the country’s magnitude as it did for the last Beijing Olympics in 2008, but they still want a spectacle for the world to see. That’s why the decision not to allow foreign spectators symbolised that it may be a long time before China opened its borders again. Insiders have suggested that it could be 2023 at the earliest before travel would resume to and from China.

China remains the last major bastion of the Covid elimination strategy. Yet the outbreaks before Golden Week have seen more leaders feeling that subduing the hyper-contagious Delta variant is like trying to tame a dragon by gripping its tail. As more images circulate of Europe and North America returning to a new normal, and the Chinese diaspora posting selfies of holiday snaps and business deals from Croatia to California, there are increasing signals that China’s opening may not be too far away – particularly with other nations like New Zealand and Australia moving away from a zero-tolerance approach.

During a recent interview, Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said that China may open its borders after it vaccinates over 85% of its population by early 2022. So far at least 78% of the country has been vaccinated. Leading infectious disease expert and Sars hero Dr. Zhong Nanshan shared similar sentiment, also suggesting that “maintaining the strictest epidemic control measures would be unsustainable, putting great stress on China.”

China’s opening up will come as great news for tourism operators, who are likely to find Chinese travellers with different expectations and preferences than when they last saw them. Similarly, luxury brands are likely to see a bump in sales, particularly from high spending females primarily holding back from purchasing luxury goods in anticipation of travelling.

Education providers will be able to sleep a little easier, and may capture a share of disgruntled parents and students from the recent crackdown on education, such as the families of 15,000 former private school students in Dancheng county in Henan province scrambling to find public school spots as their schools were forced to close. Increasing students abroad won’t just help the education sector, but also the daigou trade and tourism with the lucrative visiting friends and relatives group.

Yet the benefits of Chinese travelling beyond the mainland again will stretch far beyond the obvious industries. You can’t beat a little travel for opening your mind through exposure to other cultures, lifestyles, products and services. Even Hollywood movies are struggling to get approval to be shown in China, legally anyway. Trips abroad – either directly, or vicariously through friends and family updates on social media – will be a welcome reminder of the richness of the world beyond China.

Similarly for travellers to China, it will help remind and restore relationships beyond screens, emails and WeChat messages and hopefully make everyone a little more connected again.

Here’s to 85% vaccination rates in China, and some opening up soon!

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