Closed to the outside world until just a few short decades ago (late 1970s following reform and opening to outside world by Deng Xiaoping), China has rapidly become one of the world’s top travel destinations.
According to the World Tourism Rankings (United Nations World Tourism Organization, or UNWTO), China ranked #4 in international tourist arrivals in 2009 with over 50.9 million visitors. The rise of China as a top tourist destination has been astounding: Three years earlier, in 2006, China had about 22 million tourists. In 1978, that number was a measly 300,000 visitors.
Top 10 international tourist destinations (2009) :
1. France: 74.2 million international visitors
2. U.S.: 54.9m
3. Spain: 52.2m
4. China: 50.9m
5. Italy: 43.2m
6. U.K.: 28.0m
7. Turkey: 25.5m
8. Germany: 24.2m
9. Malaysia: 23.6m
10. Mexico 21.5m
Never satisfied, China has set its sights high—aiming to become world’s leading tourist destination by 2020.
[ 2011 update: ]
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predicted that China will become the world’s leading travel destination in the next five to seven years–citing the country’s diverse culture, heritage sites, and culinary arts. The UNWTO reported that China saw 53 million visitors in 2010, ranking it the world’s third leading travel destination.
“China is the country with the biggest population in the world and it is also an extensive and diverse country. That means it is very attractive for tourists and visitors,” Taleb Rifai, secretary general of UNWTO, was quoted as saying by local media.
The prediction is supported by another source, the ITB World Travel Trends Report 2010-2011, which estimates that inbound travel to China will grow to 188 million by 2015. The report quotes Professor Haiyan Song, chair professor of tourism at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, as predicting that, “China will become the largest tourist destination in the world after 2015.”
2010 WORLD TOURISM RANKING (March 2011 update):
1. France: 78.95 million million international visitors
2. U.S.: 60.88m
3. China: 55.98m
4. Spain: 53.00m
International Visitors to China: the top 10 (ranked by incoming country of origin):
Not surprisingly, the bulk of travelers to China are from the neighboring Asian countries.
Though not as heavily dependent on tourism as neighbors in SE Asia, tourism has become crucial in lifting millions out of poverty in the less developed, poorer provinces. According to Wu Bihu, a doctor with the Beijing University Tourism Development and Planning Research Center:
“China is one of the first countries in the world to eradicate poverty through tourism development…Thanks to the development of tourism and related industries, a great number of people in such poverty-stricken areas as Yunnan and Guangxi finally solved the problem of feeding and clothing themselves.”
Chinese tourists flex their muscles
Likewise, as China’s middle class continues to grow, the number of Chinese tourists traveling the globe continues to rise as well:
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Click here for many more statistics in China Facts: TRAVEL & TOURISM STATISTICS.