Asia tourist hubs ready for China influx

In Tokyo's Asakusa tourist district, caricaturist Masashi Higashitani is dusting off his Chinese as he prepares for an influx of travelers after Beijing ends inbound quarantine rules.

"We used to say 'ni hao' all the time," he said with a laugh as he whipped up a portrait in minutes.

Nearly 9.6 million Chinese visited Japan in 2019, the biggest group of foreign tourists by far and a massive leap from the 450,000 who came in 2003.

Higashitani estimates around 20 percent of his customers were from China before the pandemic, and he and his employees picked up Chinese phrases from those visitors and each other.

He had to downsize and let staff go during the pandemic, so he is thrilled about the expected wave of arrivals, even though he admits some apprehension too.

"I wonder if an influx of too many of them might overwhelm our capacity. I'm also worried that we need to be more careful about anti-virus measures," he told AFP.

Travelers arriving back in China will no longer need to quarantine from Jan. 8, removing one of the main barriers to travel for the country's population.

The move, announced in late December, sparked a frenzy of trip planning, with searches spiking for Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.

Chinese tourists also made up about a third of all pre-pandemic foreign visitors to South Korea and were among the top three groups visiting Thailand and Indonesia.

At a crepe stand in Seoul, Son Kyung-rak said he was already making plans to deal with a flood of tourists from China.

"We're looking to hire and preparing to stock up," the 24-year-old told AFP in Seoul's popular downtown Myeongdong district.

"Chinese tourists are our main customers, so the more the merrier."<...

Continue reading on: