Chinese tourists throng Southeast Asia resorts

Chinese tourists are flocking to Southeast Asia for the Lunar New Year holidays after Beijing lifted its tough COVID rules.

Indonesia is one of several countries in the region looking forward to an influx of Chinese visitors. With the start of the weeklong holidays, a chartered flight carrying Chinese tourists landed in Bali on Sunday.

More than 200 travelers from the southern city of Shenzhen were welcomed by Indonesian officials. It was the first direct flight from mainland China since airline services were suspended in February 2020 due to the pandemic.

A 17-year-old tourist said he was very happy "because we couldn't go abroad for three years, but now we can."

Nearly 1.2 million tourists from China visited Bali in 2019, which is the second-largest contingent after Australians. But a travel agency association says there were almost no Chinese visitors after the pandemic hit.

The association says that once direct flights from China to Bali restart, as many as one million tourists could visit this year.

The Indonesian government has not strengthened its border controls for Chinese tourists. It is determined to revitalize the tourism industry, even though infections are surging in China.

Thailand is another country where Chinese tourists are reappearing. They thronged the country's southern resort islands in Krabi Province at the weekend.

Thai tourist authorities forecast more than 29,000 Chinese will visit the country from January 19 to 27.

They are expecting an even bigger wave of visitors as the Chinese government has allowed group tours to 20 countries, including Thailand, from early February.