NANNING — Tropical beaches, deluxe cruises and a feeling of vicissitude when sailing on an ancient trade route are the latest pitch to unlock Chinese enthusiasm for overseas trips.
South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region will launch a cruise to ASEAN countries in February. With “Maritime Silk Road” in its name, the tour tries to recall China’s glorious maritime history while echoing recent calls by Chinese leaders for closer ties with Asian neighbors.
Merchant ships plying along the maritime Silk Road brought prosperity to China and its neighboring countries between 7th and 14th centuries, inspiring the proposal for building a 21st century maritime Silk Road raised by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.
The initiative has prioritized infrastructure construction for better connectivity, good news for the region’s booming tourism.
Asian countries rank the most popular destinations for China’s outbound tourists. They were the destination for 90 percent of the 100 million overseas trips made by Chinese in the first 11 months of 2014.
There are more than 1,000 flights between China and ASEAN countries every week, with bargain airlines like AirAsia and Tigerair opening more multinational flights to China’s smaller cities to explore their unsaturated air market.
Cruise tours have become the new fashion. Industry observers say China has become a central point in Asia’s cruise tours, with the anticipation that over 1 million Chinese will take such tours in 2015.
Land transport services remain scarce in the region. China has only two cross-border rail lines to Southeast Asian countries, both to Vietnam, despite high demands from both the business and tourist sectors.
A traffic official with Guangxi, which borders Vietnam, said backpackers have crowded a passenger train that opened in 2009 to link Nanning, capital of Guangxi and Vietnam’s Hanoi.
Boasting low ticket prices, the route has carried 100,000 passengers since its opening, always “packed full during holidays and festivals,” the official said.
Sun Xiaoying, a researcher with Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences said cooperation on the modern maritime Silk Road will open more travel routes and bring Southeast Asia closer to Chinese tourists.
Sun uses the opening of Kunming-Bangkok Highway in 2008 as an example. The highway makes it possible for Thai fruit to reach the Chinese market in one day and brings more than a million Chinese travelers each year to the road’s nearby attractions.
China and Southeast Asian countries are negotiating a high-speed railway that would link several Southeast Asian countries and China, a prospect Sun said would greatly improve the region’s social and economic landscape.
Guangxi opened two high-speed rail lines in December to connect it with the country’s sprawling high-speed network, which experts said will further promote the region’s foreign trade and bring Southeast Asia closer to the Chinese market.