(Bloomberg) -- Japan and Thailand top the list of Asian destinations for Chinese tourists heading abroad this summer, as the world’s biggest market of travelers look for holidays that offer good value. 

South Korea and Japan have already seen a surge of Chinese tourists after their currencies weakened against the yuan, while Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia and Thailand lure tourists with visa-free entry and relatively lower costs, according to Cirium seat capacity data, flight ticketing analysis from ForwardKeys and online travel sites’ bookings. 

Amy Li, who lives in Chengdu, is planning a nine-day trip to Malaysia next month with her husband and two children. Pricing was the single biggest factor in choosing Malaysia, where they will visit Kuala Lumpur and beaches in Kota Kinabalu, she said. 

“It’s good value for money,” Li said. “I like ocean views and and it’s not that far.”

Top Asian Destinations For Chinese Travelers

  1. Japan
  2. Thailand
  3. South Korea
  4. Hong Kong
  5. Singapore
  6. Malaysia
  7. Taiwan
  8. Vietnam
  9. Macau

*Source: Cirium; ranked by summer international flight capacity from China

The return of Chinese tourists to the global travel market is being closely watched, as their numbers and spending are crucial for the tourism industry’s recovery. Forecasts on when overseas trips by Chinese will return to pre-pandemic levels vary — some expect it will rebound fully by the end of this year, while others including Fitch Group Inc. say mainland tourists are still restraining spending.

Bookings and search data show there’s increased demand for international travel this summer. Trip.com Group Ltd. sees outbound travel from China doubling year-on-year, with family group sales for overseas holidays accounting for half of current bookings.  

The World Travel and Tourism Council earlier this month forecasts Chinese holidaymakers will splurge 1.8 trillion yuan ($250 billion) on overseas trips this year, exceeding pre-pandemic levels for the first time.  

For now, Chinese tourists haven’t fully returned in the numbers that were seen in 2019. Regional destinations for the June to August summer season are set to recover to about 80% of 2019 levels, according to flight ticketing analysis as of June 7 from ForwardKeys.

The only two countries in Asia that are expected to exceed their 2019 levels are Singapore, with a 15% spike, and Malaysia, which is seeing a 32% boost, according to ForwardKeys.

Asian nations that have implemented visa-free policies have seen faster bookings growth, with Thailand and Singapore becoming popular weekend getaways, said Tongcheng Travel, an online agency popular among Chinese users. 

Easier Entry 

Taking advantage of relaxed visa requirements,  Bella Huang, a 27-year-old teacher from Jiangsu, is headed to Thailand in August with two girlfriends. A big fan of Thai television, this will be her first and only overseas trip this year. Her budget for the trip is about 8,000 yuan. She didn’t even entertain heading to Europe this year, as she said getting a visa might have been difficult.

Still, some European destinations are also expected to show growth, with Belgium, Spain, the UK and Italy topping the list of favored countries, according to data from Cirium and Trip.com. 

Tourists making the longer flight to Europe are also willing more to fly in comfort. More travelers headed to Rome, London, Milan, Madrid, Brussels and Barcelona are splashing out on premium seats than they did in 2019 — even as most European destinations in economy class haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

“We have observed a promising upswing in premium and business travel,” said Nan Dai, ForwardKeys’ China market analyst. 

Friendly Destinations

Other destinations that are expected to outpace 2019 levels show hints of geopolitical influence. Turkey, Hungary, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan top the list of countries expected to see an increase in travel from China, according to Cirium. All are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

Visitors to Hungary are expected to jump as flight capacity increases sixfold — the biggest growth of all countries — albeit off a low base.  

“A lot of these countries are feeling a lot of love for China,” said Mark Tanner, managing director of Shanghai-based marketing firm China Skinny. “They are much more China friendly, which is adding to the appeal.”

--With assistance from Colum Murphy.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.