“We probably won’t see a significant impact yet,” says Forrester analyst Xiaofeng Wang.

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An influx of tourists from China is expected to give a boost to Malaysia’s retail and hospitality sectors, according to data from UOB Kay Hian Research (UOBKH).  According to a recent report in Malaysian daily The Star, retail real estate investment trusts (REIT) and hotel REITs such as Sunway-REIT, KLCCP Stapled Group and Pavilion-REIT are the most likely beneficiaries of this trend. According to the research house, visitors to Malaysia can account for anything from five to 30 per cent of to

of total footfall in malls, and 40 to 70 per cent of hotel guests. 

UOBKH believes the REITs it is watching could soon reach pre-pandemic levels, with the sector forecast to deliver around 5 per cent and 3 per cent earning growths in 2023 and 2024 respectively.

Time for a lift

Xiaofeng Wang, a principal analyst at Forrester, believes the opening of China’s border is great news for international destinations, as well as their hospitality and travel retail industries. 

“Although Chinese tourists’ international travel may not return immediately to pre-pandemic levels, we expect industries and countries that rely on Chinese outbound travellers (including those in APAC) will get a boost in 2023,” she told Inside Retail.

She noted that the rest of the region loosened travel policies about a year earlier than China, and tourism and retail industries have been recovering. “The pandemic took a big toll on these industries. It’s great to see them recovering well during this stage,” she said.

According to her, as China is still transitioning and Chinese consumers are being conservative in outbound travel, the growth will be gradual. 

“In the near term, [with] the upcoming Lunar New Year, we probably won’t see a significant impact yet,” she said. 

Lingering worries

But while the borders may be open, that doesn’t mean Covid-19 is going anywhere anytime soon. The new and highly transmissible sub variants of the virus are becoming a real risk to populations around the world.

According to The New Straits Times, mainland China is facing an uptick in infections due to the BA.5.2 and BF.7 variants, and there are reports that nearly 90 per cent of people in the Henan province have contracted the virus.

Worryingly, the US and Europe are also seeing a spike in cases from the Omicron XBB 1.5 strain known as Kraken, which has the potential to cause even bigger waves of infections.

Some public health experts in Malaysia feel the government should consider closing its international borders, with many fearing a repeat of the early 2020s when infections were spreading like wildfire in the nation from the influx of tourists.

Cautious optimism

Elsewhere in the APAC region, countries like South Korea and Japan are welcoming China’s border reopening, according to media reports, though both countries require visitors from China to have tested negative less than 48 hours before arrival. 

This has not gone down well in China, with the Chinese government imposing a similar requirement on South Korean and Japanese nationals in a ‘tit for tat’ dynamic. 

$255 billion of annual tourism spending from China is at stake for these countries, and it will be interesting to see how things pan out.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, the deputy prime minister personally welcomed Chinese tourists at Bangkok’s air[ort, and the country hopes that Chinese visitors can match the pre-pandemic arrivals of 11 million back in 2019.

According to Reuters, international flights to and from China remain at just 11 per cent of 2019 levels, and high air fares are expected ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Annie Yau Tse, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association which represents more than 9000 retail outlets, told the publication that she welcomes the reopening measures but is quick to manage expectations.

She feels that the pandemic outbreak on the mainland is still ‘vigorous’ and will need time to dissipate. Moreover she noted that domestic consumption remained weak on the mainland.

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