Singapore Leads China’s International Recovery As Visa-Free Policy Begins

man at hong kong airport
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Scheduled capacity between mainland China and Singapore has now exceeded pre-pandemic levels, with passenger demand set to rise further as a new visa-free policy comes into place.

The two countries have agreed to implement reciprocal visa rules for their citizens, allowing stays of up to 30 days, starting from Feb. 9. The move is part of efforts to further stimulate tourism.

Previously, Singaporeans could visit China for up to 15 days without a visa, but Chinese nationals had to apply for a visa to enter Singapore. The visa changes were agreed alongside an upgraded China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, designed to improve access for businesses to trade and invest in each other’s markets.

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong says the strengthened relationship shows Singapore is “willing to work with China to further strengthen exchanges at all levels” and stands ready to “push for new development in bilateral relations.”

OAG Schedules Analyser data shows that Singapore is one of the few international aviation markets from mainland China that has fully recovered, compared with 2019 levels. The number of nonstop two-way seats between the countries during February 2024 stands at 780,800, marking a rise of 6% on the same month five years earlier.

Month-on-month capacity is also 7% higher than in January 2024 amid strong demand for air service during the Lunar New Year period, which starts on Feb. 10. LCC Scoot is the largest provider of seats, accounting for 25.8% of total capacity. Parent Singapore Airlines (SIA) is the second largest with a 21.5% share, followed by China Eastern Airlines on 15.1%.

SIA Group has previously outlined that demand for China is vital to restoring its overall pre-pandemic capacity. Scoot’s capacity to mainland China is currently 5.6% up on 2019 levels, while SIA is 15% higher. The two airlines are serving a combined 23 cities in China at present, with about 20% of capacity deployed on flights to Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

Analysis of the latest schedules data shows that Singapore is the fifth-largest international market from China during February 2024—and the only one in the top five to have exceeded pre-COVID capacity levels. Although Thailand is the largest market, capacity remains 36.9% lower than in 2019. Japan is the second largest (21% down), followed by South Korea (19.4% down) and Hong Kong (26.7% down).

Apart from Singapore, only two other markets in the top 20 largest have fully recovered. They are Macao and the UK. Other countries like Taiwan and Indonesia are only back to about 50% of 2019 levels, while the U.S. is at just 23.8% amid ongoing geopolitical tensions. Overall, China’s international capacity is currently at about 72.2% of 2019 levels.

The new visa changes between China and Singapore follow a series of other visa relaxation measures for travelers entering China. In December, Beijing brought in visa-free entry for citizens of five European countries—France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain—as well as Malaysia. Since then, Ireland and Switzerland have been added to the list.

The move comes as Chinese carriers continue to recover their international networks and open up new destinations. As reported on Feb. 7, China Eastern Airlines has scheduled a new route to Saudi Arabia, launching flights between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport from April 8.

China Southern Airlines has since confirmed that it will also offer nonstop flights to Saudi Arabia, opening reservations for operations between Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX) and RUH from April 16. Flights will be 2X-weekly using Airbus A330-300 aircraft. The carrier will also commence 2X-weekly service between PKX and Tehran, the Iranian capital, from April 15.

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.

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