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Big boost for key travel retail locations as China updates list of outbound tour group destinations

In breaking news of critical importance to the travel retail sector, The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China has updated its list of countries and regions to which group tours can resume travelling.

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Starting August 10, travel agencies and online travel companies across Mainland China will restart outbound group tour schemes to more than 70 countries.

Crucially, the list includes major traditional China travel shopping locations such as South Korea, Japan, the US, Australia and the UK.

During a briefing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: “With international passenger flights continuing to resume and more Chinese people ready to travel abroad, in order to make outbound tours easy, starting from 10 August, China will further resume outbound group tours to more countries and regions.

“The government agencies in charge will provide businesses in the tourism sector with the necessary guidance for the implementation. At this moment, we would like to remind all outbound tourists to be well-prepared before each journey, stay safe and healthy and show civility as they travel, enjoy the trip and have a safe journey home.”

For South Korea, the move ends a ban on group tours that was initially triggered by the country’s controversial deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in 2017.

Beijing gradually lifted its ban on group tours to its near neighbour, starting with some regions in December that year. However, it again reimposed travel restrictions due the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.

In a regular press briefing, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesperson Ahn Eun-ju said: “South Korea and China have been in communication under the shared view that revitalising people-to-people mutual exchanges is important.”

The new development spells good news for South Korean travel retail, which has suffered the double-whammy impact of the frayed relations between the two nations and the effects of pandemic-related lockdowns.

With pressure from Korea Customs Service on retailers to reduce high reseller commissions (a key source of revenue through the pandemic), South Korean travel retailers will welcome the return of Chinese group travellers as they seek to continue the ‘normalisation’ of the duty free sector.

The move will also be welcomed by tourism-dependent businesses around the world.

In March, China re-opened its group tour scheme, allowing outbound travel to 20 countries including Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Russia, Cuba and Argentina among others, amid the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. It added 20 more destinations to the list weeks later but still excluded the US, UK, South Korea and Japan.

List of countries included in China’s outbound group tour scheme

Asia: Oman, Pakistan, Bahrain, South Korea, Qatar, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Japan, Turkey, Israel, India

Africa: Algeria, Ethiopia, Benin, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, Ghana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tunisia

Europe: Ireland, Estonia, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, Montenegro, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Romania, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Sweden, Cyprus, Slovakia, United Kingdom

North America: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Costa Rica, United States, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica

South America: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela

Oceania: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, French New Caledonia