Gulf nations eye more exchanges with China in Lunar New Year

This photo shows a street view in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec 7, 2022. (WANG DONGZHEN / XINHUA)

For people in the Gulf region, China’s normalizing of cross-border travel is not all about aiding the global economic recovery, but has even greater significance as it means resumption of exchanges in other sectors such as education. 

For instance, it meant that Du Wei, the Chinese director at the Confucius Institute at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, could finally restart a scholarship program that got suspended at the height of the pandemic.

The most popular destinations for travellers going on return trips originating from the Chinese mainland are Macao, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt

“That is one of our important projects. We are taking our students who got scholarships from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority to China for them to have a short-term study and prepare them to pursue degrees in China,” Du told China Daily.

READ MORE: HK has 'special position' in China-Gulf ties

“It was suspended … last year because the students, even when they were accepted by Chinese universities, they could not go to China. … But now, I’m going to talk to the relevant officers and restart it,” she said, adding that she is also planning to organize a high-school students’ visit to China later on.

China has scrapped quarantine requirements for international travellers from Jan 8, but requires the visitors to take a nucleic acid test for COVID-19 within 48 hours prior to departure.

According to a Jan 14 report from Zawya, a business intelligence platform that focuses on the Middle East and North Africa region, overall outbound international flight bookings from China jumped by 192 percent from Dec 26 to Jan 3, following China’s announcement of eased border curbs.

It said the most popular destinations for travellers going on return trips originating from the Chinese mainland are Macao, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt.

Citing data from travel analytics provider ForwardKeys, the report said that bookings to Abu Dhabi were 51 percent behind the 2019 pre-pandemic levels, while those to Dubai were 83 percent behind 2019. 

Dubai welcomed close to 17 million visitors in 2019 with the Chinese visitors making up almost 1 million of that. 

With the continuous opening up and deepening, and enhanced multi-sector cooperation between China and the Arab countries following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Riyadh, where he attended a China-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, Jehad Amin, chairman of the Association of Bahrain Tour and Travel Agents, or ABTTA, hopes China’s “tourism revolution” can lift the Gulf region as a popular destination.

“The Chinese began a tourism revolution that affected various continents from regional Asian destinations to Europe, Africa and America. And we are hopeful the Gulf region will become a popular destination of choice for the rich culture, geographical diversity, and distinctive hospitality it offers,” Amin told China Daily.

During Xi’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud on Dec 8, the Chinese leader agreed to list Saudi Arabia as a destination for group travel and expand personnel exchanges as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

“It is unfortunate that there are no direct flights between Bahrain and China but with Riyadh aiming to attract large numbers of Chinese tourists, it would be sensible to bundle both Saudi and Bahrain in one trip for the advantage of the Chinese travelers,” said Amin.

Bahrain has removed all COVID-19 restrictions since February last year. 

Meanwhile, UAE airline Emirates has announced that it will resume flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Jan 20.

READ MORE: President Xi's trip to the Middle East is of great strategic significance

“Emirates is committed to meeting passengers’ travel demand and looks forward to the rapid recovery of global travel market, including China, to the pre-pandemic levels,” a company spokesperson told China Daily.

As the Chinese tourist influx is not just driven by holidays or seasonal events, it contributes to continuous operation of travel facilities and relevant sectors, said Amin, the ABTTA chief in Bahrain.

“Chinese tourism is distinguished by large numbers. They contribute to the continuation of tourism throughout the year and the operation of facilities other than known holidays, and we definitely look forward to receiving Chinese tourists in Bahrain,” said Amin.