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From economic researcher to globe-trotting guru

By CHENG SI | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-20 09:45

"The first time I traveled abroad was on a business trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand when I worked for Beijing International Studies University in 2001," said Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy.

Recalling the trip, Dai gave a shy smile. "Everything I looked at then was novel to me. Outbound tourism was not a popular activity for most Chinese at the time. For me, it was an eye-opening trip," he said.

Having graduated from Anhui University of Finance and Economics with a master's in economics in 1995, Dai was once an economic researcher, rather than a tourism guru.

"When I sought advice from my mentor for future research, I was told that tourism was a new area in which academic research had yet to be fully developed," he recalled.

During almost 20 years immersed in tourism, Dai has witnessed dramatic changes in the industry, especially the ever-booming outbound sector.

He said that years ago Chinese people were not interested in tourism overseas because they lacked both the money and the time to take vacations and travel.

"The old Chinese saying goes, 'It's better to travel 10,000 miles than read 10,000 books', but in the 1980s and even'90s, most Chinese had difficulty gaining access to travel," he said.

"We used to provide travel services for foreign guests rather than enjoying the services ourselves."

According to Dai, the situation changed in 1999 with the introduction of the "Golden Week" policy, when longer breaks were instituted during Spring Festival, National Day and Labor Day.

"Golden Week provided the basic element for the development of tourism-enough time for leisure-and then the economy, which was thriving in the wake of reform and opening-up, implemented in 1978, helped raise incomes. The government also called on the public to travel more," he said, with reference to official attempts to boost the economy via greater consumption.

The year that marked a turning point for tourism, both domestic and outbound, was 1999, he said.

"One of my friends went on a trip to Paris, but he wasn't aware of the time difference between China and France, so he made a phone call at midnight to show off that he was in traveling in Paris," he said.

In the past 20 years, outbound tourism has evolved, and is no longer an exclusive privilege for a small group, but a regular activity for people, he said.

"Perceptions of outbound tourism and people's behavior when visiting overseas destinations have undergone great changes," he said.

Dai recalled that when he led a business group to Frankfurt, Germany, in 2004, the team members-many of them 20-somethings-rushed to luxury stores during what was intended to be a rest period.

"Now, travelers prefer to slow their schedule so they can experience life at their destination overseas rather than sightseeing in a rush-their shopping behavior is more rational," he said.

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