China's reopening provides much-needed jolt to global tourism: UNWTO

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is bullish about the tourism industry in 2023 and believes China's recent reopening will deliver a much-needed jolt to global tourism recovery and growth.

UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili delivers a speech at the 24th edition of the UNWTO general assembly, at the Palacio de Cibeles, in Madrid, Spain, November 30, 2021. (Photo: CFP)

"The removal of COVID-19-related travel restrictions in China is a significant and much-welcomed step to the recovery of the tourism sector in Asia and the Pacific and worldwide," Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the UNWTO, wrote in a written reply to CGTN on Wednesday.

On January 8, China further relaxed COVID-19 restrictions on international passenger flights in a move that is expected to greatly invigorate global tourism with the revival of the country's inbound and outbound travel.

Pololikashvili told CGTN that Chinese travelers will offer a boost to a flagging world economy.

He cited UNTWO data showing that in the years before COVID-19 hit, China was the world's top source market in terms of volume and spending.

China recorded 154 million outbound trips in 2019 with expenditure hitting $254.6 billion, accounting for 17 percent of all spending on tourism internationally. At the same time, China was the fourth most visited destination pre-pandemic in 2019 with 65.7 million tourists.

"In the short term, we expect to see a strong rebound, particularly in Asian destinations," said Pololikashvili.

UNWTO's forward-looking scenarios for 2023. (Graphic: UN World Tourism Organization)

Despite diverse challenges facing the industry like expected economic downturns and continued geopolitical uncertainties, Pololikashvili anticipates a strong year for the sector in 2023.

International tourist arrivals could reach 80 percent to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels this year, according to a UNWTO press release issued on Tuesday.

However, one of the major challenges to the rebound of the Chinese market is the growing number of countries with travel restrictions, Pololikashvili noted.

As of 10 January, 32 countries had implemented restrictions on passengers whose first point of embarkation is China and/or those who have transited through China, data from the UNWTO showed.

"UNWTO recalls that as indicated by WHO (World Health Organization) travel measures should be rooted in science, be proportionate and non-discriminatory," said Pololikashvili.