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Fewer people cross borders in 2003
( 2004-01-12 09:40) (China Daily by Jiang Zhuqing)

After 13 years of consecutive growth, the number of people who crossed China's borders declined in 2003, a year haunted by the spectre of SARS.

The Ministry of Public Security said yesterday more than 220 million people entered and left the nation, 2.57 per cent less than the previous year. An official with the MPS Exit-Entry Administration blamed the decline on the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

The outbreak resulted in fewer visits by overseas residents from Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, Taiwan and foreign countries, the official said.

At the same time, more and more Chinese citizens have began traveling or studying abroad in recent years, the official said.

The ministry's latest statistics show that 39.7 million Chinese were registered to leave and enter the borders in 2003, a 20 per cent growth from the previous year.

More than 91 million overseas travelers, including 11.3 million foreigners,visited China last year.

Last year's overall decrease was a temporary setback when compared with the ever increasing growth trend, said an expert of exit and entry administration who did not want to be named.

"More people, either foreigners and Chinese citizens, would enter and leave the borders this year especially after the nation adopts more measures to loosen exit and entry administration,'' he added.

China's tourism sector may have been one of the most affected by the SARS outbreak, said He Guangwei, general director of China National Tourism Administration.

Tourism departments will make great efforts to revive China's tourism sector this year, said He during a national tourism meeting last week.

A total of 36.8 million tourists from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and foreign nations are expected to visit tourist attractions and stay overnight in China this year, according to a work plan from He's administration.

Moreover, the overall income of the tourism sector will reach 560 billion yuan (US$67.7 billion) in 2004, of which US$20.5 billion is expected to come from international tourists.

Nevertheless, He noted more time will be needed for China to eradicate the effects of SARS and rebuild China's image as "the safest tourism destination.''

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