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Chinese Stream Abroad Despite Economic Slowdown

  • Shannon Van Sant

FILE - Chinese tourists pose for a picture inside the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

FILE - Chinese tourists pose for a picture inside the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

China's transition to a consumption-led economy is boosting the global tourism industry. The number of international tourists from China rose 53 percent in 2015 from the year before, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, a London-based nonprofit that researches global tourism.

Over the last five years, the number of Chinese travelers doubled to 120 million people; one in ten international travelers is now from China.

James Roy, a Business Analyst at China Market Research Group, said Chinese tourists are now traveling farther, and to many more destinations.

“You know in the past where it was more about buying an expensive watch or a bag, and showing that off, now it’s much more about sharing on social media all of the exotic places that you’ve been to,” Roy said.

The number of tourists into China also grew, but slightly, at just 2.2 percent in 2015. Tourism supported 65 million jobs in China, and made up 7.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Nearly 57 million foreign travelers came to China that year, spending more than $57 billion.

FILE - Chinese ski instructor Xu Zhongxing (2nd L) skis on the Lauberhorn in the ski resort of the Jungfrau region in Switzerland.

FILE - Chinese ski instructor Xu Zhongxing (2nd L) skis on the Lauberhorn in the ski resort of the Jungfrau region in Switzerland.

But that figure is far less than the amount Chinese tourists are spending on their overseas trips. Last year, travelers from China spent $215 billion outside the country.

The net outflow of tourism spending comes as Chinese officials are trying to deal with a slowing economy at home, where the growth rate is expected to be less than seven percent this year, far less than the double digit growth of the past, and exports fell 20 percent in February, leading to fears of domestic job losses.

However, the economic concerns have not kept Chinese travelers at home. In fact, the economic fears may be sparking many of the trips as Chinese look overseas for investments.

While 29 percent said they chose their travel destinations based on shopping needs, Wolfgang Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute in Hamburg, said China’s surging overseas investment is also necessitating trips abroad.

“First of all, it’s not all about leisure. There is an increasing part of outbound tourism which is simply business tourism, as China is investing overseas and as China has a lot of trading relations and business relations overseas,” he said.

China’s building of airports and infrastructure is also making travel easier, and younger Chinese are taking advantage of easing visa restrictions and increasingly traveling overseas individually.

FILE - Chinese tourists taking pictures of themselves in front of the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, Sept. 28, 2015.

FILE - Chinese tourists taking pictures of themselves in front of the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, Sept. 28, 2015.

Some nations have benefited from the growth in outbound tourism from China. Japan recorded a 37 percent growth in visitor spending. Chinese tourists are also choosing to travel to Iceland, where the travel and tourism sector grew by 19.4 percent in 2015. Many destinations closer to China though, are suffering.

Tourism revenues in 2015 fell 32 percent in Macau, and 8.4 percent in Hong Kong. China’s crackdown on corruption and capital outflows, as well as political unrest, have contributed to a decline in visitors from the mainland there.

Mark Tanner, the managing director of the China-focused marketing agency China Skinny, said as Chinese tourists travel through Asia, many will look for new experiences in other parts of the world.

“They are getting a little more adventurous and going a little further afield. And I think that is the same with domestic tourism. They may whet their appetite with some of the local destinations, and increasingly travel abroad,” he said.

The growth in Chinese travelers is contributing to the global growth of the tourism sector, which has added 7.2 million jobs worldwide.

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