China’s growing middle class has led to a boom in domestic tourism and investment in infrastructure is expected to drive the growth even further.
Accountant Wu Tao, 33, spends about one-third of his annual income travelling around China every year. On a recent weekend, for instance, he decided to visit the ancient Silk Road city of Dunhuang so he travelled there on an overnight train from Urumqi in Xinjiang, where he lives.
“One is to relax ourselves, and two is to see our country’s sights, like Dunhuang, for the history and cultural artefacts,” said Wu Tao. “If we don’t have enough time, then I’ll travel nearby. If I’ve a longer holiday, then I might go further.”
Wu Tao is among a growing number of visitors to Dunhuang. In 2014, the city received more than five million tourists, an increase of more than 26 per cent over the previous year.
Most of them were domestic tourists like Xu Min, a businessman from Ningbo. “In terms of tourism resources, I think China’s the best in the world,” he said. “It has everything, including many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.”
“In the past when Chinese people see foreign tourists, they think they’re crazy to spend money and travel, like they’re masochistic,” said John Wang, owner of John’s Information Service and Café in Dunhuang. “But now, mindsets have changed, because the economy and people’s living conditions have improved.”
The tourism boom is not limited to Dunhuang. In the last decade, China’s domestic tourism market grew by 10 per cent on average each year, and the trend is expected to continue despite a decline in business travel due to the government campaign against wasteful spending and graft.
“Spending public funds, particularly government departments using public funds, you’ll see less of such cases,” said China Tourism Academy president Dai Bin. “The days of them doing so are over, where officials spend thousands of dollars on meals for instance, but what we’re seeing is that leisure travel and business travel involving small and medium enterprises, as well as micro-enterprises, is on an upward trajectory.”
China’s massive spending on roads, railways and airports has also helped spur tourism.
China’s in the midst of a massive airport construction boom. According to the government’s 12th Five-Year Plan, the total number of airports is set to expand from 175 in 2010 to 230 by the end of this year. Many of these new facilities are in the central and western parts of China, such as Gansu Province, where several new airports were opened in the past few years.
“After you put all these in place, firstly, you can stimulate the economy, but more importantly, it will make it easier for tourists to visit. And these tourists can in turn support the operation of airports and other facilities,” said Dai Bin.
The government aims for spending on domestic tourism to reach around US$890 billion by 2020 – more than double the figure in 2013.