Backlogs in Chinese visas and passports are hampering the resumption of business travel

Skift Take it

There is no easy solution after embassies were forced to close or due to staff shortages due to the Covid outbreak. Patience will be required.

Matthew Parsons

The situation on the ground in China is not ideal as the country prepares to lift its travel restrictions this weekend.

The head of a major Shanghai-based corporate travel agency has warned that companies looking to restart business travel will face delays as employees struggle to secure the right travel documents.

“China has suspended passport renewals for the past three years, so now travelers are rushing to get new passports,” said Jonathan Kao, director, Greater China at BCD Travel.

“Visas are also a problem as most have expired and some of the big embassies, such as the US, German and Japanese, have been closed in the last few weeks due to the increasing number of Covid cases in China, leading to staffing problems,” he added.

Corporate travel agency CWT also said many embassies are not operating and processing at pre-pandemic levels, causing significant delays in visa applications.

It looks set to make travel to and from China more difficult, compounded by other countries requiring pre-arrival PCR tests, and company travel managers being cautious despite the door being wide open.

“Some of our customer members have issued a company-wide travel warning from January 5 restricting travel to and from China to business-critical entities only and with the approval of their company’s crisis management team,” said Scott Davies, chief executive of UK’s Institute of Travel Management. “Other customers are constantly assessing the situation and will make adjustments as necessary in conjunction with their business risk and compliance departments.”

However, he said the overall lifting of Covid restrictions on international travel to China and the rapidly changing Covid-19 testing regulations for travelers coming from China to Europe did not really pose major challenges for most travel managers as they had become accustomed to similar complexities. during the pandemic.

Slow and steady

Yet while many countries have faced serious airline capacity and staffing problems after easing their own border restrictions last year, China is taking a more measured approach with its aviation regulator aiming to gradually reach 75 percent of pre-pandemic traffic in 2023.

“Airlines have been adding new flights in the past few weeks, so it’s becoming less of an issue,” said BCD Travel’s Kao. “Prices actually fell somewhat compared to the previous month due to the increase in the number of flights.”

He also pointed to the removal of the country’s “switch” mechanism, meaning that no flights were forced to cancel due to the high number of confirmed Covid cases. However, he said the average international fare is still three times higher than in 2019.

American Express Global Business Travel has a different forecast.

“We expect international capacity recovery to be slow, at about 12 percent of 2019 available seat miles for the first half of this year,” noted Dan Beauchamp, head of global business consulting, Europe, Middle East and Africa. “International flight options are therefore likely to be limited and ticket prices high, and the situation is unlikely to improve significantly in the short to medium term.”

There are also ongoing tensions between the US and China over routes.

In the Spanish corporate travel agency TravelPerk, routes from Germany and the Netherlands showed the largest increase in the number of reservations so far.

“It is still too early to assess the impact of the new travel restrictions put in place by EU countries and others and whether this will knock down traveler confidence and ultimately bookings,” said Huw Slater, chief operating officer.

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