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(CNN) — Xiongjie Dai, a freelance software engineer living in the Chinese city of Suzhou, dreams about his first big trip post-Covid-19.
The 32-year-old says destinations like South Korea, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and Australia rank high on the list. But he has his eyes set on the US.
“When I have enough money, I’d like to visit America first,” he tells CNN Travel. “America is the leader in both the computer science and IT industries, so I want to visit Silicon Valley and famous universities like MIT, Stanford and so on.”
According to Trip.com Group data, outbound flight bookings increased 254% in late December, the day after it was announced that travel restrictions would be eased as of January 8.
“We are optimistic about the tourism outlook,” Wendy Min, head of media and executive communications at the Trip.com Group, tells CNN Travel.
“The latest policy announcement is encouraging, and we expect strong pent-up demand and increasing consumer confidence.”
Where to first?
Singapore is a top destination for Chinese travelers, according to Trip.com Group data.
The most popular destinations so far are Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand, based on Trip.com Group bookings. For long-haul destinations, the US, UK and Australia lead the pack.
“The trend we have seen is that short-haul flights are popular due to (lower) prices. Singapore, South Korea and Japan have always been quite popular with Chinese travelers, even pre-Covid,” says Min.
It makes sense for regional travel to recover first, says Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, CEO of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), since it is easier and less expensive to visit nearby destinations.
But the first quarter of 2023 will be almost exclusively urgent non-leisure travel, such as business trips, family reunions, student travel or healthcare needs, he adds.
Chinese business travelers will want to reconnect with the world’s major economies, like the US, Japan and Europe. In addition, destinations like the US, UK and Australia also attract many Chinese students, so some travelers may be planning reunions.
The first wave of leisure travel
According to Arlt, leisure travel will start to pick up in the second quarter of the year when things like passport and visa approval processes are running smoothly, and flights have fully resumed.
“Some leisure travelers will be very motivated to get a passport, visa and affordable ticket. Others will wait and see what stories the ‘pioneers’ have when they return,” he tells CNN Travel.
“The government spent three years making people in China feel afraid of the outside world, so some will still be anxious about whether it’s safe to travel.”
Throughout the pandemic, Chinese state media and the ruling Communist Party …….