They’re often cited as the next goldmine for the tourism industry around the world and every country wants to have its share of the current and future Chinese tourism boom. The problem is that the large majority of Mainlanders who travel abroad don’t go far. The National Tourism Administration has revealed that 70 per cent of Chinese tourists last year travelled to Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan. Three destinations close to the Mainland, with the first two Special Administrative Regions (SAR)of China. In 2014, 109 million Chinese made trips outside the country breaking for the first time the 100 million mark. More than 70 million travelled to these three destinations. Macau alone received more than 20 million Mainlanders according to the city’s official data, while Taiwan accounted for 3.98 million trips, Taiwan’s tourism bureau said.
Both by traveller numbers and spending, Mainland China has been the world’s largest outbound tourism market since 2012, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the South China Morning Post reported. The US bank says the 2013 outbound travel penetration of the Mainland Chinese population was just 7.6 per cent, with 59 per cent of those travelling abroad doing so for the first time. The low base creates tremendous potential as tourist numbers are expected to see rapid growth in the coming years with the increase in disposable income among the country’s middle class, which is as big as the United States population, the Hong Kong paper said.
But most worrying for tourist operators around the world is that almost 90 per cent (89.5 per cent ) of all Chinese travellers do not travel beyond Asia. After Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, popular destinations are countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Japan, the US, Vietnam and Singapore. SCMP noted that tourist numbers to Japan tend to fluctuate in line with swings in Sino-Japan relations, although visits to Korea and Japan increased more than 40 per cent last year. Europe is the most popular destination outside Asia but it gets only ‘a drop in the ocean’ attracting 3.5 per cent of all Chinese trips. Even Africa, at 3 per cent, comes second, beating the Americas, at 2.7 per cent. For example, the US started offering Mainland Chinese passport holders multiple-entry visas valid for 10 years, a major boost for overseas travel as well as for the US as a destination.
SCMP says the removal of travel restrictions has been the most important factor in boosting air travel, together with economic growth. Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecasts that the total spending of Mainland China’s international travellers will reach US$264 billion by 2019, from US$164 billion last year, a 50 per cent increase.