Wei Ming, a Chinese engineer and aviation enthusiast, is exactly the sort of traveller that Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand tourists are hoping to attract.

Wei, 44, stated he cancelled his plans to travel to Australia and instead reserved a six-day vacation there when Singapore eliminated visa requirements for Chinese nationals. He claimed he considered travelling to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, the other two Southeast Asian nations that do not require a visa, but he ultimately chose the city-state due to the Singapore Airshow, which begins public viewing on February 24.

With Beijing lifting travel restrictions due to the pandemic last year, thousands of Chinese are getting ready to travel abroad for the first time. Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia are hoping that their unprecedented visa waivers will draw in a sizable share of these visitors and their much-needed spending.

Chinese passport holders rank 62nd out of 199 countries on the Henley Passport Index, which rates passport holders’ access to places without the need for a previous visa. Travelers from China frequently lament the time and bother it takes for them to secure travel visas.
Visa waivers can enhance a destination’s appeal, but economists predict that China’s declining income, job insecurity, and slower economic development this year would discourage any outward travel.

“There is a feeling that the economic hardships and lack of disposable income are hitting much harder than in other parts of the world and that any travel is therefore staying within China where costs are lower,” said John Grant, chief analyst at travel data firm OAG, adding that the three Southeast Asian countries “may be looking for the trickles.”