New estimates from the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute see a
“strong wave” of Chinese tourists beginning to travel to international
destinations in 2023, with a lot of these trips to those within the
region — such as South-east Asian nations.
In the decade prior to the pandemic, Southeast Asia experienced more
than a two-fold increase in Chinese visitors. In 2019, the 10 countries
that make up the region collectively received 143 million inbound
tourists, of which 32.3 million were Chinese.
As the world anticipates the return of the largest tourism market,
South-east Asia is set to build on this pre-pandemic momentum and emerge
as a major destination for Chinese travellers.
the recent Guangzhou International Travel Fair Chinese Outbound Tourism
Conference, Gary Bowerman, director of travel and tourism consultancy
Check-in Asia, outlined major infrastructure developments, new F&B
scenes and homegrown trends across the region that will welcome Chinese
travellers upon their return.
“During the pandemic, not everything stopped. There was a lot of
development, and I think visitors coming back into the region will
notice that things have changed. There is an exciting new energy in
travel and tourism in the region,” said Bowerman, who is also an advisor
for the Centre of Chinese Studies in Madrid, and author of The New
Chinese Traveller: Business Opportunities from the Chinese Travel
In terms of major infrastructure projects, Bowerman highlighted the
China-Laos railway, which opened at the end of 2021, and Brunei’s
Temburong Bridge, which opened in 2020.
Temburong to the Brunei-Muara district across the Brunei Bay, at 30
kilometres it’s Southeast Asia’s longest. Bowerman also noted that in
Vietnam, adventurous travellers can now cross the world’s longest
On a smaller scale, Singapore has new appeal for tourists with a
penchant for pedal power: a 500 kilometre network of cycle routes that
take in many of the country’s natural highlights, which Bowerman said
didn’t receive as much interest prior to the pandemic.
Historically popular with Chinese tourists in countries such as
Australia, the UK, New Zealand and the US, self-drive tourism saw a
sharp rise during the pandemic, but it hasn’t really been promoted much
by South-east Asian destinations, said Bowerman. This is about to
“There are huge numbers of roadways, freeways, and coastal highways
being built across the region, offering new opportunities for travellers
who want to create their own itineraries.”
Over the next decade, Thailand will build a network of self-drive
tourism routes in the Gulf of Thailand, the Mekong River region, and in
the Khao Yai Mountains, while Vietnam and Cambodia are also making
self-drive tourism more accessible.
For Chinese travellers more interested in dining than the great
outdoors, the next edition of Thailand’s Michelin guide, forthcoming in
2023, will for the first time feature restaurants serving unique Isan
cuisine in four north-eastern provinces. Meanwhile, in Malaysia’s
capital Kuala Lumpur, the city’s mixologists have spent the pandemic
honing their craft to create a thriving boutique cocktail bar scene.
“Every single one of the 10 Southeast Asian countries is looking
forward to the future when Chinese travellers become part of the travel
landscape once again.”