BEIJING - With the Olympics as a launch pad and amid a rising global
fascination in all things Chinese, China is expected to replace France as the
world's top tourism destination by 2014, an AFP report said, citing
Western tourists takes a photo under a portrait of former
Chinese leader Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The number of foreign visitors to China reached 22 million in 2006, excluding
arrivals from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, compared to a mere 300,000 in 1978,
according to the China National Tourism Administration.
"China is now an attractive destination for tourists the world over," AFP
quoted administration vice-president Wang Zhifa as telling a travel
industry forum in Beijing recently.
While tourism growth in France has been slow, China has been enjoying
double-digit expansion for years, with the number of tourist arrivals doubling
in the past five years alone.
As a result, China, originally expected to overtake France as the number one
tourism destination in 2020, is now tipped to do so six years earlier, according
to the World Tourism Organisation.
Xu Jing, the organisation's Asia-Pacific representative, said that China was
on course to overtake the United States, the world's number three tourist
destination, this year in terms of foreign visitor arrivals.
The Asian giant would then pass Spain, number two, by the end of the decade.
With an expected boost from next year's Beijing Olympics, and another shot in
the arm supplied by the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, China will overtake France by
2014, Xu said.
The Chinese capital is preparing to receive 500,000 overseas visitors during
the 2008 Summer Games from August 8-24, up from 350,000 visitors in August 2006.
Those Olympic visitors are expected to spend about five billion dollars,
according to China's tourist board.
Meanwhile, foreign tour operators and airlines are expanding services to meet
growing demand in Beijing and across the country.
"Our China business has grown 20 percent annually over recent years," said
Eric Bouladou, Asian manager for French firm Nouvelles Frontieres.
One explanation for China's appeal is the wide variety of destinations on
offer, he said.
In the world's most populous nation, a tourist can find tranquility in the
remote mountains of Tibet, visit ancient archaeological sites such as the
Terracotta Warriors in Xian, climb the Great Wall, party in the big cities,
relax on a southern island beach and eat several types of Chinese food.
"There is no typical tourist, so the range is very wide from budget to
luxury," Bouladou said.
With China in high demand, Air France-KLM is boosting capacity, notably
offering five extra flights per week to Shanghai this summer.
"We have very strong bookings," said Air France's director for greater China,
The economic impacts for China of its tourism industry are stunning.
This year alone China's tourism industry is expected to generate US$78
billion, 2.5 percent of GDP, a figure that could rise to US$277 billion by 2017,
according to the World Tourism Organisation.
In Beijing, China's top tourist draw, revenue from the industry is growing at
about seven percent a year, accounting for around eight percent of the city's
gross domestic product, according to official figures.
The broader impact of the thriving sector on the rest of the economy is huge,
accounting for 440 billion dollars this year and up to 1.6 trillion by 2017, the
World Tourism Organisation said.