Tourism in 2023: Special forces, new frontiers, feeding frenzies

New travel trends, increased focus on cost-effectiveness, and evolving visa policies present new opportunities.

Photo by Fan Jianlei

Photo by Fan Jianlei

By LI Rujia


In 2023, after three challenging years of the pandemic, the domestic tourism market began to revive.

The rebooted market is marked by new travel patterns, cost-effectiveness, and evolving visa policies - unfamiliar territory opening up new opportunities.

Special forces

At the beginning of the year, “special forces” gained popularity on social media, driven by students seeking an outlet for their suppressed wanderlust.

The approach involves visiting as many attractions as possible in the shortest time and posting about them, a kind of ticking-bomb scenario.

Affordable offbeat destinations are a must. Any location quickly becomes popular with other Wolf-Warrior travelers, if it suits mission requirements. On the other hand, high prices or poor management are swiftly avenged on social media.


Today, it’s all about cost-effectiveness and more rational expenditure.

Tourists want affordable, accessible and quirky. They are enjoying watching mid-range hotels in popular locations fight it out by cutting prices and throwing in freebies. The bright lights of traditional draws are fading fast, as people head to smaller towns where everything is cheaper.

And it has to be. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, during the National Day holiday in early October, the per capita spending on domestic trips was only two-thirds of that in 2019.

In lesser-known cities, mid-to-high-end hotels offer a lot for less money. The popularity of niche destinations has more than doubled compared to 2019, with bookings in mid-to-high-end hotels growing even faster.

Proactive authorities

Tourism bureaus nationwide are putting in extra effort, as exemplified by the viral popularity of Zibo, a small town at the heart of an unforeseeable BBQ frenzy.

As the arrivals of hungry carnivores sizzled and exploded, the city was ready with BBQ tours and festivals, better policing, road repairs, and a whole new barbecue city that once was a rundown market. During the National Day holiday, public toilets were equipped with wet wipes, alcohol swabs, sanitary napkins and stomach medicine.

World events, like the University Summer Games in Chengdu and the Asian Games in Hangzhou, attracted a huge number of domestic and international tourists.

Music festivals and concerts thrived. Jay Chou’s concert in Haikou attracted over 150,000 tourists, generating nearly 1 billion yuan (US$140 million) in tourism revenue. TFBOYS’ 10th-anniversary concert in Xi’an led to a 738 percent year-on-year increase in bookings, directly driving over 400 million yuan into the local economy.

Outwardly mobile

Outbound tourism is recovering slower than domestic travel. Last week saw just over half the number of outbound flights as last year. According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, expected international passenger flights are still down by about a quarter.

Hong Kong and Macao are the most popular destinations this year's destinations. Thailand, a perennial favorite, has struggled to recover as expected due to public opinion controversies and security incidents. Japan remains a focal point, while South Korea faced a relatively uninspiring year. Europe is now seen as very expensive with annoying visa restrictions, security concerns and other issues.

Several countries introduced visa-free measures for Chinese citizens, including Angola, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Singapore and China are developing reciprocal visa-free policies, making Malaysia and Singapore potential hot spots in the new year.

In terms of visits to China by overseas visitors, many visa fees have been cut and passport holders from six countries, namely France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia, no longer need visas to visit China.