Chinese travelers back in March showed pent up desire to get back to exploring the U.S. in spite of strained relations between the two countries and a perception of America as unsafe from a pandemic perspective.
Six months later, 87 percent of Chinese consumers still rank the U.S. as the most unsafe country to visit among a list of top 13 destinations, according to the latest China Traveler Sentiment Report from marketing solutions firm Dragon Trail, shared exclusively with Skift ahead of its release next week.
Several other destinations have also significantly dropped in ranking in terms of negative perception, including Japan, UK and Canada. Singapore and Hong Kong, however, are seen as among the safest.
As the pandemic has shown, pent up demand will remain just that — until destinations can prove to Chinese travelers that they have lower Covid infection rates, no quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travelers, and government protocols are in place to be able to explore in safety.
“The number of new cases at destinations have a direct impact on safety concerns, but Chinese travelers are learning to balance risk and desires,” said Mengfan Wang, manager of research at Dragon Trail.
“But at the same time, as cases have been rising in most of these destinations and an increasing number have decided to ‘live with the virus,’ including Singapore, this could impact the safety assessment from China, a country that has firmly decided not to ‘live with the virus’ thus far.”
Although the survey didn’t ask about regional preferences for outbound travel this time around, Dragon Trail doesn’t expect any considerable change there despite the perception of pandemic safety remaining low for the U.S.
“As some indication of interest, average views per post of WeChat articles by Brand USA in H1 2021 were higher than the average views for the full year in 2019 and 2018, so from that angle we don’t see any significant decline in interest in the US as a tourism destination,” said Sienna Parulis-Cook, director of marketing and communications at Dragon Trail.
For now, the desire to travel domestically and across provinces is back on the rise after taking a tumble this summer following a Delta variant surge. Seventy one percent said they were planning on traveling locally on National Day on October 1, a significant increase over March numbers. According to Trip.com, inter-provincial bookings surged 356 percent on August 20 when Shanghai and other destinations lifted inter-provincial group tour bans.
And while outbound travel remains restricted, more than 80 percent remain eager to travel overseas again and said they welcome inspirational content. Furthermore, over half are in favor of the country reopening to tourists for the Beijing Winter Olympics, in sharp contrast to Japanese residents’ pushback this past summer.
As for improved perceptions of the U.S. as Covid-safe for outbound travel, that will happen once numbers show a healthy pandemic recovery, according to Dragon Trail’s research. But the timing on that, of course, is about as uncertain as China reopening.