Chinese tourists are welcomed by local officials and ground staff at Velana International Airport, Maldives, on Wednesday. China was the largest source of tourists in the Maldives for years before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, nearly 300,000 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives, accounting for around 17 percent of the total tourist arrivals that year. CHE HONGLIANG / XINHUA
China will resume outbound group travel to a selected group of countries early next month, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
The ministry said in a notice on its website on Friday that a pilot program will take effect on Feb 6 to allow travel agencies to open outbound group travel for Chinese citizens to 20 countries - Thailand,Indonesia, Cambodia, the Maldives,Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Fiji, Cuba and Argentina.
Travel agencies will also be allowed to offer flight and hotel packages to tourists starting the same time, according to the notice.
The decision was made at the request of the foreign affairs panel of the State Council's Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism, the country's top COVID-19 response task force, and was based on considerations over COVID-19 control measures and socioeconomic development, the ministry said.
The notice stipulates that tour organizers strictly obey official COVID-19 measures at home and abroad. Tourists will be urged to make sure they are not infected with the highly contagious disease before boarding flights, pay attention to their own safety and health and follow local COVID-19 rules during the journey, and comply with epidemic prevention requirements after returning to their hometown.
On social networking platform Sina Weibo, many micro-bloggers said in comments about the news that they were eager to travel overseas. A user named Elegance of Snow Lotus wrote, "I will travel around the world", while another who goes under the name Bryant Manbahun said, "I have taken my passport out of the box".
The National Health Commission announced on Dec 26 that China would scrap the quarantine requirement for international arrivals starting on Jan 8, as it downgraded management of COVID-19 from Class A to Class B.
Data from Trip.com, a major tourism platform in China, showed just half an hour after the release of the announcement, the search volume for outbound flight tickets and overseas hotels reached a three-year high on the company's search engine.
In 2019, Chinese people made 155 million outbound trips, according to data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.