Tourists crowd Yu Garden in Shanghai, China, on Jan. 21. (Xinhua/Yonhap)
The number of foreign tourists that China received last year amounted to a mere 36% of the number of visitors it received in 2019, pre-COVID. Flights from the US, Taiwan, and India have diminished to around half of pre-pandemic levels during the same period.
According to figures released by China’s National Immigration Administration on Thursday, 711,000 foreigners were granted a residential permit in 2023.
“The number of foreign residents in China has recovered to 85% of the number we had in 2019,” a statement from the administration said, claiming that the number of foreign residents in China is recovering following the country’s lifting of the stringent “zero-COVID” lockdown measures in late 2022.
But the number of short-term visitors hasn’t bounced back as easily as hoped. China’s immigration authority announced that 35.59 million foreigners entered and exited the country in 2023, coming to only 36% of the total in 2019 (97.7 million).
While a substantial number of foreign nationals doing business or studying in China have returned to the country, the same can’t be said for tourists or short-term visitors, whose numbers have recovered to less than half of levels prior to the pandemic.
In an effort to draw more tourists and visitors from across the world, China even opened up 15-day visa-free travel to visitors from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia starting in November of last year.
As of 2023, international flights connecting China to the rest of the world remained at 60% of their pre-pandemic levels. Bloomberg reported on Monday that China now has 64 fewer flights to Taiwan than it did prior to the pandemic, or around 70% of 2019 levels. There are no longer any direct flights between China and India, whereas nine had existed as of 2019. Meanwhile, 41 direct flights between China and North America have been dropped, down 63% compared to 2019, while direct flights between China and Europe were down 24%, with nine flights dropped.
As of last year, Europe and the Americas saw a stronger recovery in their international tourism sectors than Asia and the Pacific. Figures from the UN World Tourism Organization released Monday showed tourist numbers recovering to 94% of their 2019 levels in Europe, largely due to intra-regional demand and visitors from the US. The Americas saw 90% of pre-pandemic levels of visitors last year, while Africa saw 96%. Northeast Asia saw numbers recover only to 55% of their 2019 levels.
By Choi Hyun-june, Beijing correspondent
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