A Chinese tourist poses with Disney cartoon character Minnie Mouse onboard a cruise in the United States on June 19, 2008. Chinese outbound travel is set to slow down this year. [China Daily]
Inbound travel to the mainland is expected to grow by just 1.5 percent this year to reach the 2007 level of 132 million tourist arrivals, hit by a worldwide slump in the sector amid the global economic slowdown, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) forecast Wednesday.
"All major inbound source markets, except for Hong Kong and Russia, slumped last year amid the economic downturn," CNTA chief Shao Qiwei told an annual working conference.
The fall in inbound arrivals last year to 130 million is also the first drop in the sector since 2003, official statistics showed.
"The inbound tourism sector is facing a considerable challenge this year," Shao said.
Similarly, the number of visitor arrivals worldwide is unlikely to achieve a growth rate of more than 2 percent this year, if it manages to grow at all, the World Tourism Organization has forecast.
In terms of outbound travel, Shao said about 46 million mainland tourists traveled overseas last year, up 12 percent from 2007 figures.
Outbound travel is also forecast to grow by 9 percent to 50 million tourists this year, a rate lower than that of previous years, Shao said.
Many in the tourism industry are now banking on the domestic travel sector to get through the difficult year ahead.
The number of trips made by domestic tourists this year is expected to grow year-on-year by 9 percent to 1.85 billion, the CNTA forecast.
To meet the tourism targets, the administration is drafting a national tourism guideline to encourage workers to take annual paid leave from April to June and cut travel costs.
Three week-long national holidays were reduced to two last year.
The Golden Week vacation period in May was shortened to three days, while three more brief holidays to mark traditional Chinese festivals were added.
However, after the trial in the first year, those in the tourism industry reportedly found people showing little interest in traveling during the brief holiday periods, while paid leave was not guaranteed for everyone.
"The new brief vacation period covers mainly traditional festivals and highlights family activities, like sweeping tombs and mourning ancestors. They are just not suitable for travel," industry observer Wang Xiaorun said.
Still, people's desire to travel, especially during peak periods such as May, is evident, Wang said.
Many Internet users in surveys have called for restoring the weeklong May Day holiday and keeping the new short holiday periods.
"Further increasing the total number of public holidays is unlikely, because 144 days of public holidays in a year is already quite a lot for a developing country," said Dai Bin, deputy director of China Tourism Academy, which is responsible for drafting the national tourism guideline.
"A possible solution suggested in the guideline is to allow people to take their annual paid leave before or after short holidays that occur between April and June," he said.
Applying for annual paid leave - at least five days - combined with three-day long public holidays can add up to a long vacation period of eight days and more, he said.
The draft is expected to come out in March, and Guangdong, Shandong, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Beijing have started to draft their plans, Dai said.
Guangdong is expected to become the first province to implement the new regulation.
The province's plan will soon be submitted to the local government for approval, said Yang Rongsen, head of the provincial tourism administration.
"Some government units and enterprises in a few cities will be among the first groups to allow employees to take paid annual leave before or after the May Day holiday in pilot programs," he said.
"If it goes well, we will promote it across the province."