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China travel rebound flags amid costs, visa snags

STORY: Chinese travellers were supposed to get back in the air, and back in the shops, after the the end of lockdowns.

But the signs are that a travel rebound is fading away, and that’s bad news for tourism businesses everywhere.

Eighteen months after China reopened its borders, travel numbers are well behind market expectations.

Last year saw Chinese people take 87 million trips abroad - that’s still down 40% on the pre-COVID era.

UN data show they spent 24% less than in 2019, while spending by U.S. travelers was up 14%.

It’s all a concern for holiday firms and retailers, with Chinese travelers the world’s top spenders on international tourism and airlines.

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Popular destinations for the country’s tourists - like France, Australia and the U.S. - may feel a particular hit.

A decline in the value of China’s yuan currency is one factor, as it makes overseas travel more costly.

High unemployment and a sluggish economy have also cut spending power.

All that may have pushed people towards domestic travel, which has boomed even as international demand proved weak.

Chinese travelers also complain of the time and difficulty in getting visas for some destinations, particularly in Europe.

That leaves the number of them traveling to France at barely more than a quarter of pre-health crisis levels.

Capacity on air routes to the U.S. remains down 80%, with political tensions not helping either.

By contrast, countries that offer visa-free access - including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand - have seen rising demand.

Japan has also seen a surge, helped by a weak yen that makes it a more affordable destination.