Asia sees surge in Chinese tourism: Japan, Thailand top 2024 list

    Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and Malaysia are seeing a jump in Chinese visitors, enticed by favorable visa policies, weaker currencies, and demand for distinctive luxury experiences.
    Southeast Asia in particular is seeing a rise in Chinese tourist arrivals as they seek out price-friendly options. Image: Getty
      Published   in Travel

    As Chinese tourists eagerly resume international travel, traditionally popular destinations like Japan and Thailand are seeing a notable influx.

    Visa-free entry and weaker currencies playing pivotal roles in China travel choices. Leading the pack this summer are: Japan and Thailand, closely followed by South Korea, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian countries.

    Japan and Thailand have emerged as the top choices for Chinese tourists, largely due to favorable exchange rates and relaxed visa requirements. South Korea has also seen a resurgence in Chinese visitors, bolstered by the weakening of its currency against the yuan. Data from Cirium, ForwardKeys, and major online travel booking sites indicate that these destinations are experiencing a substantial increase in flight bookings and travel inquiries.

    In May, Japan welcomed 3.04 million visitors, including 545,400 from mainland China, marking a 305.5% increase compared to May 2023. Despite this growth, the numbers are still at 72% of pre-pandemic levels from May 2019. The rapid increase in visitors has led to labor shortages in Japan’s hospitality sector, prompting major hotels like the Imperial Hotel to raise wages by 7% to attract and retain talent.

    The perceived lower cost of travel to Southeast Asia is enticing travelers like Chengdu resident Amy Li, who recently told Euronews that she is planning a nine-day trip to Malaysia with her family, drawn by the country’s affordability. “It’s good value for money,” Li noted, highlighting the appeal of ocean views and relative proximity to China.

    Top Asian destinations for Chinese travelers

    • Japan
    • Thailand
    • South Korea
    • Hong Kong
    • Singapore
    • Malaysia
    • Taiwan
    • Vietnam
    • Macau

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

    The European allure#

    While Asia remains the primary destination, Europe is attracting a growing number of Chinese tourists, especially those seeking premium travel experiences.

    Belgium, Spain, the UK, and Italy are the favored European countries. Interestingly, travelers to Europe are more inclined to book premium seats, opting for greater comfort on long-haul flights.

    Nan Dai, a market analyst at ForwardKeys, noted, “We have observed a promising upswing in premium and business travel,” signaling a shift in travel preferences towards higher-end experiences.

    Meanwhile, Germany is leveraging digital technology to attract Chinese tourists, with new initiatives to enhance digital customer services. As Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board, told China Daily, “China is one of the most promising source markets for inbound tourism to Germany, and few other countries have such a pronounced digital affinity.” A recent delegation tour in China included visits to and, resulting in a memorandum of understanding with to promote German tourism.

    The German National Tourist Board has collaborated with Chinese tech giants like Alipay and Baidu, launching campaigns such as an online shopping festival and a WeChat mini-program to promote German tourism. Hedorfer highlighted the importance of digital innovation and partnerships, adding, “These companies have extensive user bases and access to vast amounts of consumer data, which allows for deep insights into travel behavior and preferences."

    Tax-free shopping surge#

    In May, the global recovery for tax-free shopping surged to 172% of 2019’s level, showcasing a robust revival in international shopping, with Chinese shoppers playing a key role. That month, tax-free spending specifically by mainland Chinese shoppers reached 132% of 2019’s level, highlighting the return of Chinese outbound tourists after years of domestic travel and spending.

    Spending soared 250% YoY across APAC in May. Mainland Chinese consumers spearheaded this increase with an impressive 272% jump over May last year. Spending by travelers from Hong Kong and Taiwan, meanwhile, rose a remarkable 705%, and those from Northeast Asia showed a 378% increase.

    In Continental Europe, spending rebounded 145% YoY, propelled by France, Spain, and Italy. Mainland Chinese shopper spending in Europe grew 39% YoY.

    The future of luxury vacations#

    The future of luxury travel is being reshaped by immersive brand experiences, a trend particularly appeals to Chinese consumers. This summer, iconic fashion houses like Jacquemus are transforming Saint-Tropez resorts into branded experiences that envelop visitors in their brand essence.

    Such takeovers offer Chinese travelers an opportunity to live and breathe the lifestyle of their favorite luxury brands, creating a unique blend of high-end retail and leisure.

    By integrating branded experiences with hospitality, luxury brands can foster deeper connections and loyalty among Chinese travelers. The success of these initiatives requires a shared vision and authenticity between hotels and brands, balancing exclusivity with broad appeal. As the luxury market evolves, those who innovate and embrace these immersive experiences will set new standards for excellence, making the future of luxury travel as dynamic as the destinations themselves.

    • The surge in Chinese tourists traveling abroad post-pandemic, particularly to Japan and Thailand, is driven by favorable visa policies and weaker currencies.
    • Japan saw a 305.5% YoY increase in Chinese visitors in May, although visitor numbers are still at 72% of pre-pandemic levels, highlighting the potential for further growth.
    • The resurgence in tax-free shopping, with mainland Chinese shoppers’ spending reaching 132% of 2019 levels, underscores the importance of targeting Chinese consumers in international retail strategies.
    • Brands and hospitality businesses should leverage digital innovations and partnerships, as seen in Germany’s collaboration with Chinese tech giants, to attract Chinese tourists and enhance their travel experiences.
    • Embracing immersive brand experiences, such as resort takeovers by luxury fashion houses, can create unique and memorable travel experiences that appeal to Chinese tourists, fostering deeper brand loyalty and setting new standards in luxury travel.
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