MADRID - UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary General Taleb Rifai said Thursday he expected China to become the world's largest tourist destination within five to seven years.
Rifai was speaking to Spanish state television network RTVE a day after the opening of the FITUR tourism exhibition here.
After China, which is well represented at FITUR with 22 different exhibitors, received 53 million foreign visitors in 2010, Rifai expects that number to increase.
"We can expect to see China become the number one country in terms of both receiving and sending tourists in the next five to seven years. It is simply natural development," he said. "China occupied the place of Italy as the fourth most important destination two or three years ago and now it is in third place."
"China is the country with the biggest population in the world and it is also an extensive and diverse country. That means it is very attractive for tourists and visitors," he added.
"China is full of attractions, it has a huge variety, which goes from sea to mountain and cultural destinations and it is a culture that is not just immaterial, but tangible, from its food down to its ancient legacy," Rifai said.
The UNWTO chief also highlighted the warm welcome visitors could expect in China.
"Tourists travel to places where they feel welcome and comfortable and that is the case with China. The country knows how to welcome tourists and that is more important than any political questions," he said.
"In the future, China will win second place and then first place. China is doing things very well," Rifai said.