Uneven recovery of Chinese tourism has major implications for seafood sales

Tourists in Shanghai, China.

In response to the recently transpired May Day holiday, China's government sought to unleash domestic tourism spending by lowering airline fuel surcharges and offering various subsidies to catering and travel companies.

The number of inquiries and bookings for domestic and international travel have increased significantly within the past two months, according to China Daily.

Thailand, long a major destination for Chinese visitors, who are avid consumers of seafood while traveling, has seen tourists from China begin to return in large numbers since the Covid-19 pandemic began to ebb, according to Julian Davies, the CEO of Bangkok-based Thammachart Seafood Retail Co.

“There are increasing numbers of tourists from China every day; Thailand is welcoming them with arms wide open as the market returns,” Davies said.

Davies said his company’s 80 Below premium seafood bar in the Gourmet Market of Siam Paragon Mall has been boosted by the influx of Chinese visitors. The bar features tanks with live king crab, North American lobster, oysters, and other shellfish.

Thai travel companies are also responding to the influx and have begun to refocus on the Chinese market by reactivating Chinese marketing campaigns. Thailand’s government forecasts 7 to 8 million tourists from China in 2023, compared with 11 million in 2019. For its part, Thammachart Seafood recently hired a Chinese-speaking professional to run a social media campaign to promote 80 Below.

“Previous to 80 Below, we operated the Dock Seafood Bar at Siam Paragon, which we replaced with 80 Below. Our F&B team informed us that Chinese tourists are asking where the Dock is. Pre-COVID, the Dock was extremely popular with Chinese tourists. Our marketing team is working on various media campaigns to inform them, starting with the inbound tour operators,” Davies said.

While China remains the leading source of international tourists, flights connecting China to international destinations remain at a fraction of the level they were at prior to the pandemic. From 10 to 16 April, China operated 2,242 international flights, equivalent to just over 29 percent of the pre-pandemic level, but 4.7 times the level at the beginning of this year, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) at China’s transport ministry. Flights to and from China in the first three months of 2023 carried around 2.2 million passengers, which was just 12.4 percent of the level seen in the first quarter of 2019, according to the CAAC.

The return of Chinese outbound tourism has been spotty, especially in many Western destinations. China recently allowed the restart of outbound group tours, yet the reopening of permits for individual countries remains slow. And American and European airlines have been reluctant to restore flight levels to China as they face a ban on entering Russian airspace, forcing them to make longer, more fuel-intensive journeys to and from Asia. That hands an advantage to Chinese airlines, which are still flying over Russia.

China’s central government has pushed efforts to jump-start travel inside China as a means of driving domestic spending, particularly as the country’s real estate sector appears destined for long-term stagnation after a decades-long building boom.

However, a reopening of domestic tourism might not necessarily result in an uptick in seafood imports

Photo courtesy of Robert Way/Shutterstock

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