Visitors watch a firework show during the opening ceremony of the 40th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival at the Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on January 5 (XINHUA)
As the eight-day Spring Festival holiday draws closer, global tourist destinations are keen to attract Chinese holidaymakers, with high hopes for a tourism boom.
In a video message last week, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin extended a warm welcome to Chinese tourists, as they had been the largest source of inbound tourism for the country. The prime minister expressed hopes that Chinese visitors would have a delightful and secure experience in Thailand.
This came after China and Thailand signed a mutual visa exemption agreement, which will come into effect from March 1.
"As a Thai citizen, I'm so excited about the news," said Chanapan Kaewklachaiyawuth, vice president of the Thai Chinese Tourism Alliance Association, adding that it will facilitate travel and be the best mechanism to boost economic gains.
Chanapan said the association expects between 200,000 and 250,000 Chinese tourists to enter Thailand during this year's Spring Festival holiday, running from February 10 to 17.
In 2024, the Southeast Asian country aims to attract 8 million tourists from China, more than double the figure from 2023 and constituting 75 percent of the pre-pandemic peak recorded in 2019.
Singapore, which also signed a visa-free agreement with China last month, experienced a recovery in its tourism sector last year, with the Chinese mainland topping its tourist spending chart.
The city-state expects its tourism industry to recover further this year, driven by improved global flight connectivity and capacity as well as the implementation of the mutual 30-day visa-free travel with China.
Tourism bureaus across China are actively promoting local attractions and employing innovative strategies to entice visitors. Featuring unique local traditions such as distinctive dressing-up, traditional dances and delectable cuisine, these efforts aim to captivate tourists in the lead-up to the Spring Festival holiday.
The "ice city" Harbin, capital city of northeast Heilongjiang Province, took advantage of its winter landscape to promote ice and snow tourism, attracting more than 3 million visitors during the three-day New Year holiday and raking in a total tourism revenue of 5.91 billion yuan (about $831.6 million), both reaching record highs.
On Alibaba's travel platform Fliggy, bookings for domestic and overseas destinations for visits during the Spring Festival holiday have surged, with that for outbound travel increasing more than 15 times compared with 2023, leaving tour guides buzzing with excitement.
"Customers are eager to explore overseas destinations, particularly after countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore waived visa requirements for Chinese tourists. It's like a renaissance for both individual and group tours," said Tan Mingyuan, a tour guide with GZL International Travel Service.
"I have to work the entire holiday period," said Tan, who just returned from the Philippines and is leaving for Vietnam with a 20-member tour group.
Looking ahead, 2024 will be a big year for China's tourism industry, which will enter "a new prosperous cycle," according to the China Tourism Academy.
Chinese tourists are expected to make more than 6 billion domestic trips this year, up from nearly 4.9 billion in 2023, while the number of outbound trips by Chinese tourists is expected to reach 130 million, a big jump from more than 87 million last year, according to the academy.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said that following a strong 2023, international tourism is well on track to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.
According to the first UNWTO World Tourism Barometer of the year, the unleashing of remaining pent-up demand, increased air connectivity, and a stronger recovery of Asian markets and destinations, are expected to underpin a full recovery by the end of 2024.