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Overseas travel just the ticket as Chinese go on vacation

Updated: 2013-11-06 06:58
By Wang Wen ( China Daily)

\With growing wealth and a big population, the country is becoming the world's most important market for outbound travel, reports Wang Wen

Xie Jiting wasn't taking any chances.

The 26-year-old administrator, who hails from Xi'an, the capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, moved her vacation in Thailand to November, two months ahead of her original plan.

Xie said she wanted to beat the crowds that might rush to Thailand if a bilateral visa-exemption policy was introduced.

"I don't like the crowds at tourist sites," Xie said, even though she acknowledged that visa-free visits are convenient for solo travelers.

Xie has taken one or two overseas vacations each year since she started to work in 2007.

It's Chinese citizens like Xie who are supporting the breakneck rise of the nation's outbound tourism.

In the first three quarters of 2013, the number of outbound trips rose 18 percent to 72.55 million, according to the China Tourism Academy, a research institution under the China National Tourism Administration.

The CTA forecast the full-year number of outbound trips at 98 million.

"The number will be very close to 100 million this year, and it can be expected to break the 100-million mark in 2014," said Jiang Yiyi, director of the CTA's international tourism development division.

Chinese outbound tourism has grown by an annual average of 20 percent in recent years, driven by the nation's economic development, Jiang said.

"Nothing will stop the fast growth of outbound tourism, as long as the economy keeps growing," she said.

China remains the most important emerging economy for the global travel and tourism industry, according to the World Travel Market Industry Report for 2013, which was released on Monday.

"China is still dominating the headlines, and its economic success continues to be reflected by the level of interest from the global travel industry," said Simon Press, Reed Travel Exhibitions' director of World Travel Market. Reed Travel is a division of Reed Elsevier Plc.

Summer heats up

Chinese travel agencies have been having busy summers. And Dai Bin, head of the CTA, said that overseas spending by Chinese tourists was 10 times higher than domestic tourists' spending last year.

The third quarter is a traditional peak season for tourism, and the number of travelers has doubled at that time during the past several years, said Zhang Lei, general manager of Utour International Travel Service Co Ltd.

Chinese families are becoming used to taking vacations abroad, and parents usually use their annual leave in the summer to travel with their children, he said.

Travel agencies also promote family-oriented tours during the season.

Themed vacations, such as those featuring visits to famous universities, museums and amusement parks, accounted for about 70 percent of Utour's products in the third quarter, Zhang said.

The travel agency is very optimistic about its business for 2013. "This year's outbound tourism will have faster growth than last year for sure, although the exact number isn't clear yet," Zhang said.

The nation's outbound tourism market is becoming more diversified, offering something for almost any age or income, he said.

More travelers

Encouraging developments on the visa front might mean even more overseas trips. Zhang noted that getting a visa is a key hurdle for many Chinese outbound travelers.

Mauritius, the island country in Africa, began offering a visa exemption for Chinese travelers at end-October. China and Thailand are also talking about bilateral visa exemptions for tourists.

The United Kingdom announced an easier visa application process for Chinese travelers this month.

"Many Chinese travelers will be encouraged by the easier visa application to the UK," said Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of Visit Britain, the UK's national tourism agency.

Chinese travel agencies and airlines have already started to prepare for the new business that will be generated by these moves.

Ctrip, the largest online travel agency in China, will add new offerings for Thailand when the visa-free policy takes effect, said Pu Yue, production manager of Ctrip's tourism department.

It's already relatively easy to get a Thai tourist visa, Pu noted. But even if there's no explosion in visitor numbers, "more independent travelers will visit the country, if they do not need to apply for a visa," she said.

She estimated that more than 20,000 Chinese travelers will visit Thailand through Ctrip this year, as Thailand is Chinese travelers' first choice in Southeast Asia.

Domestic and foreign airlines are expanding their routes to handle the increase in tourism.

During the coming winter-spring season, 23 new international routes will be added in China. Some of the new services will be medium- and long-haul routes, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said.

"According to our experience, the visa-free policy will definitely push up the passenger flows," said Ding Yue, a spokesman of Air China Ltd.

Changes in visa policies won't affect the carrier's flight schedules in the short term, as adding new routes is a very complicated process. But Air China will launch a non-stop route between Beijing and Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Thursday, offering three flights weekly.

The new route is a result of "huge demand" by international travelers, Ding said.

Thai Airways International Public Co Ltd added the Chinese cities of Chongqing, and Changsha, Hunan province, to its network on Oct 27, taking its destinations in China to eight.

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