MADRID, Spain - China overtook France to occupy fourth place last year in the ranking of the world's top spenders on international tourism, the United Nations World Tourism Organization said on Wednesday.
Chinese tourists splashed out $43.7 billion (298 billion yuan) on their travels abroad in 2009 despite the economic downturn, propping up other economies by eating out, occupying hotel rooms, shopping and visiting attractions, it said in its latest bulletin.
That compares to $36.2 billion in the previous year when China was the world's fifth largest source of tourism spending.
"In crisis-ridden 2009, expenditures still increased by a whopping 21 percent," the Madrid-based body said.
"Of the other nine top spenders, only one recorded positive growth, The Netherlands. It occupies the 10th position and increased spending by a modest 0.4 percent."
Germany remained the world's top international tourism spender last year, splurging $80.8 billion on travel, down from $91 billion the previous year, followed by the United States and Great Britain.
While most of China's 1.3 billion people live on just a few dollars a day, the country is producing a burgeoning middle class that can dwarf the populations of many other countries and who are eager to travel abroad.
The World Tourism Organization estimated that the number of Chinese tourists visiting foreign destinations will number 100 million by 2020, up from 31 million in 2005 when it was the seventh biggest spender on foreign travel.
"China is developing very quickly as a source market," said World Tourism Organization spokeswoman Sandra Carvao.
Since 2000 China has posted growth of around 22 percent per year in overseas trips, making it the fastest growing market for expenditure on international tourism in the last decade, according to the UN body.
Ma Yiliang, a research fellow with the China Tourism Academy, said the number of trips overseas made by Chinese tourists in the first quarter increased by 14.51 percent compared to the same period last year.
While most overseas trips by Chinese are to other Asian destinations, they are increasingly heading to Europe and the United States as restrictions ease on travel to these regions.
"Simplified visa application procedures will attract more Chinese to travel," said Jiang Yiyi, director of the International Tourism Development Institute at the China Tourism Academy.
"Destinations that provide signs, TV channels, maps and guides in Chinese will also gain a higher satisfaction rate from Chinese tourists," she said.
According to the annual report of China Outbound Tourism Development 2009-2010, whose English version was released by the academy on Thursday, 54 million mainland tourists are estimated to travel overseas this year, up from 47 million in 2009.
They are expected to spend 48 billion yuan ($6.86 billion) overseas, a 14 percent increase from the preceding year, according to the report.
AFP - China Daily
(China Daily 04/30/2010 page5)