China, home to wonders like the Great Wall and Forbidden City, has seen an explosion in tourist numbers in recent years, both domestic and foreign, but infrastructure has struggled to keep up. Chinese media regularly reports on popular sites being overwhelmed during peak seasons, and conservationists have criticised the government for poor planning, including the destruction of large parts of Beijing’s historic old city. The new guidelines seek to bring some order to this chaos, and get Chinese people to spend more of their money at home, as the government tries to shift its economic model away from simply relying on exports and investment for growth.
By 2020, the government is aiming for spending on domestic tourism to reach 5.5 trillion yuan ($894 billion), more than double the 2013 figure of 2.6 trillion yuan, with tourism accounting for more than five percent of GDP. The plan, released on the central government’s website (www.gov.cn), also aims for Chinese citizens to take an average of 4.5 holidays a year – it does not specify whether at home or abroad – up from an average of 2.5 for 2013.
“Speeding up reform of the tourism industry … has important meaning for boosting employment, increasing incomes, pushing development in central and western China, helping poverty-struck areas get rich and promoting stable economic growth,” the plan said.
Environmental and cultural protection will be emphasised, the numbers of people allowed into popular sites controlled and better planning for things like parking spaces enforced, it added. Tourism companies will be encourage to list on the stock market and loans and other financial support given to small firms operating in the sector, especially at the village level, the plan said.
China also plans to get more foreign tourists, by better promoting itself outside of the country and continuing to “perfect” a new system granting 72-hour visa-free access to several major cities, mostly for Western tourists, it added. China has struggled to fulfil its potential as a tourist destination due in part to the difficulty of getting visas and also because of its severe problem with air pollution.
The country welcomed 55.7 million international tourists last year, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, down 3.5 percent on 2012. (1 US dollar = 6.1480 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Shao Xiaoyi; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)