Last year offered Asian travel destinations a glimpse of what life would be like without Chinese tourists. For many, it was economically bleak. Of course, visitors from China weren’t the only ones staying away, as a great proportion of the global population “sheltered in place” to try and stem the spread of the coronavirus, but by virtue of their colossal pre-pandemic numbers – 169 million outbound trips were made from the mainland in 2019, according to the National Bureau of Statistics – their absence was in many cases the most apparent. Now, even as vaccines are being administered around the world and we edge ever closer to a “new normal”, there are suggestions that it might take some time for Chinese tourists to return to their wandering ways. To start with, there is the small matter of outbound tour groups being halted , a measure that has been in place since January 2020. Reporting on the sustained suspension in October, Reuters noted that China’s “curbs on outbound group tours have had a debilitating impact on the tourism industry in countries such as Thailand, which have become heavily reliant on Chinese tourists over the years”. Then there is the fact that “Chinese tourists prefer short-distance trips amid Covid-19 epidemic”, at least according to the People’s Daily , the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party. Citing data provided by online travel agent Mafengwo, the state-owned newspaper reports that searches for local excursions surged by 71 per cent ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. Of course, fresh travel restrictions imposed ahead of the annual migration could have had something to do with a desire to stay closer to home. China’s annual Lunar New Year migration looks very different in 2021 Still, with Chinese travellers apparently developing more of a taste for domestic tourism, who could possibly fill the void? According to online travel industry publication Skift, “India is being seen as the next wellspring of Asian tourists as the hopes that China will drive a tourism recovery any time soon look more distant by the day.” It is not the first time destinations that want to diversify their source markets have looked to the subcontinent. Although a mere 26 million outbound trips were made from India in 2018, Indian travellers appear to be currently clocking up more air miles than their Chinese counterparts “as word gets around that Indian tourists are flocking to Maldives and Dubai, two destinations that have reopened since the middle of last year with no quarantine required”, reports Skift. Indeed, 2020 saw India knock China from the top spot to become the Maldives’ largest source market. Maldives-based news portal The Edition reported that “India attributed the accomplishment to the strengthened relations between the two countries during the current administration, including the signing of a bilateral visa-free agreement in March 2019”. Bollywood celebrities have also played their part, marketing the Maldives as a desirable destination to millions of followers after “flocking to their tropical island neighbour’s equally famous beaches to rejuvenate and escape lockdown woes”, according to The Edition. “The ripple effects attracted an increasing number of Indian travellers to the Maldives eventually pushing India to the top spot,” stated the Indian High Commission in Male. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Ananya 💛💫 (@ananyapanday) Film stars notwithstanding, the spending power of India’s middle class is not yet comparable to that of China’s – pre-pandemic estimates put between 78 million and 158 million Indians in that socio-economic bracket, versus 400 million in China. Who knows how those figures will have changed by the time we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, but it seems safe to assume that both economies will be affected. Last August, Reuters reported how Covid-19 smashed India’s “middle-class dreams”, and the Chinese have not escaped, despite bullish official forecasts. In October, online magazine Sixth Tone wrote that “Amid a wave of job losses and wage reductions […] China’s white-collar middle class has gotten a stark reminder of how fragile their new-found status can be”. As for the destinations across Asia that have been dealt an equally stark reminder of the untenable position their dependence on international arrivals places them in, whether the first to return en masse are from China or India matters a lot less than when, and if, they return. Macau’s ‘lofty’ tourism targets for 2021 Macau has unveiled its tourism targets for 2021, and all it wants is six to 10 million visitors. Online travel industry publication Travel Weekly Asia called the goal “lofty [when compared] to other destinations struggling to secure open borders”, before pointing out that it was a far cry from pre-pandemic numbers – the city welcomed 39.4 million arrivals in 2019. Numbers dropped by 85 per cent last year, to 5.9 million visitors, of which 97 per cent hailed from elsewhere in Greater China. According to Travel Weekly Asia, the Macao Government Tourism Office “will be optimising iconic events and products to further Macau’s allure, including plans to push a trial reopening of the remodelled Macao Grand Prix Museum”. Vroom, vroom! … perhaps the city should set its sights a little higher. A new entry point into Laos Southeast Asia’s only landlocked country might currently be closed to foreigners, but when Laos does reopen to arrivals from overseas, there will be an additional entry point. According to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua, the country’s southern Sekong province, which shares a boundary with Vietnam, will open its first international border crossing on March 24. ‘Luang Prabang is dead’; in jewel of Laos tourism businesses have closed and the future looks uncertain An article in English-language daily Vientiane Times stated that the new crossing would shorten the distance between Thailand and Vietnam through southern Laos by more than 100km. “One of the main challenges for Laos now is how to improve tourist sites and provide transit services to benefit more from regional connectivity,” reports Xinhua.