Island nations bank on waves of Chinese visitors

2024-02-18 08:29:36China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Island nations in the Asia-Pacific are banking on tourists from China to revive their travel industries and spur post-pandemic growth, experts said.

Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Fiji and some Pacific Island nations with either new or long-existing favorable visa policies for Chinese citizens, are hoping to cash in on the big-spending tourists.

Puvaneswaran Kunasekaran, a senior lecturer in social and development at the Universiti Putra Malaysia, said visa-free access makes a destination "more accessible and appealing" to Chinese tourists who are known for their high spending.

"Increased tourism, particularly from a high-volume market like China, contributes significantly to the GDP growth (of the destination country)," Puvaneswaran told China Daily.

In November, Sri Lanka waived visa fees for nationals from seven countries including China, India and Indonesia. According to Sri Lankan authorities, it is most likely that the free visa facility will be extended till the end of 2024.

Stunning beach resorts combined with attractions including ancient ruins and wildlife safaris have lured visitors to Sri Lanka, making tourism one of the country's biggest foreign exchange earners. However, the Easter Sunday suicide bombings on April 21, 2019, that killed over 260 people, the COVID-19 pandemic and domestic economic and political turmoil have driven away tourists in recent years.

Sri Lanka's tourism industry, however, started recovering in 2023.Nearly 1.5 million tourists were welcomed last year, more than twice the figure posted in 2022. Australia, China, India and Russia are among the biggest groups of tourists to Sri Lanka, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

Chinese tourists "are more than welcome to visit us", Priantha Fernando, the authority's chairman, told China Daily. He said the South Asian nation is targeting 1 million Chinese tourist arrivals by 2025.

"From China, I am looking at around 250,000 arrivals this year.(This is) a stepping stone for 2025,"Fernando said.

What concerns Fernando is the capacity of Sri Lanka's airlines to accommodate any sudden surge in the number of Chinese tourists. "We are working with charter operators in China … and hope to have at least two charters (directly from China to Sri Lanka) a week," he said.

Booming industry

The Maldives, renowned for its sandy beaches, is likewise expecting more Chinese travelers thanks to the China-Maldives mutual visa-exemption agreement. Under the agreement, which was implemented in February 2023, Chinese citizens can enjoy a visa-free stay in the Maldives for 30 days.

Tourism accounts for about 75 percent of the Maldives' GDP. The country recorded 1.8 million arrivals in 2023, with China accounting for over 10 percent of the total, according to official data. China, India and Russia were the biggest sources of tourists for the Maldives.

During his first state visit to Beijing on Jan 10, the Maldives' president, Mohamed Muizzu, said that his country welcomes the arrival of more Chinese tourists. China had been the archipelago nation's largest source of inbound tourism before COVID-19, with nine cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Guangdong province, having charter flights or direct flights to and from the capital Male.

Fiji also offers visa-free stays for Chinese travelers. The Pacific island nation signed a mutual visa-exemption agreement with China in 2015.The tourism sector employs over 100,000 people and contributes over 40 percent to the country's GDP.

Tourism Fiji, the government's tourism marketing arm, launched a website in 2022 that caters exclusively to Chinese tourists.

In an interview with China Daily, Tourism Fiji's CEO Brent Hill said China is on course to become the fourth-largest tourism market for Fiji.

"We're keen for the Chinese market to grow again as other markets continue to open around the world. Chinese tourists spend more in Fiji, with their expenditure going up compared with that of the pre-COVID era," Hill said.

Fiji is actively promoting itself among Chinese travelers, according to Li Wei, a Fiji travel specialist and travel agency owner from Sichuan province. He said most travel agencies from Fiji have special promotions such as discounts to popular travel spots.


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