Industries in Depth

Why China will soon be the world's top destination for tourists

The shadows of spectators are seen through a Chinese national flag during the men's kayak (K1) semifinal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 12, 2008.     REUTERS/Phil Noble (CHINA) - BR2E48C0SY2EC

By 2030 China is predicted to overtake France as the world's top tourist destination. Image: REUTERS/Phil Noble

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Forget the Loire Valley and Eiffel Tower - by 2030, the Yellow Mountains and Shanghai Tower will be topping global travel bucket lists as China leapfrogs France to become the world’s top tourist destination.

And more Chinese will be travelling overseas in the coming decade than any other nationality, as household incomes rise, according to Euromonitor International’s Megatrends Shaping the Future of Travel report.

At the World Travel Market in London, Euromonitor International’s Head of Travel Caroline Bremner said: “Destinations like China are poised for a successful performance in inbound tourism, with China set to overtake France as the leading destination worldwide by 2030.”

The report estimates there will be 127 million arrivals in China each year by the end of the next decade, compared to 126 million in France and 116 million in the US.

China will overtake France to become the biggest tourist destination by 2030 Image: Euromonitor International

Asia on the up

Globally, 1.4 billion trips are expected to be taken this year, a 5% increase on last year, with total travel sales coming in at almost $2.5 trillion, according to the report’s author, Wouter Geerts.

Travel across Asia is especially taking off, with both inbound and outbound trips on the increase thanks to upcoming sporting events (the Tokyo Olympics and Winter Games in Beijing) boosting the region’s appeal, as well as “rapidly growing economies, and an expanding middle class seeking to spend its increasing disposable income on travel”.

Technology is a huge factor in this growth, says Geerts: “Online travel intermediaries such as Ctrip and Fliggy are today’s travel enablers in China, while traditional travel intermediaries in Japan and South Korea such as JTB and Hanatour are actively investing in their online channels to meet demand from their constantly-connected consumers.”

Digital technology is aiding travel and tourism in Asia Image: Euromonitor International

“The gradual process of loosening visa restrictions has made travelling in the region easier, with 80% of arrivals in Asia originating from the region,” he adds.

Asia’s place as an emerging tourism market - both as an attractive destination and as a growing source of tourists - is also evident in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017.

It predicted the top 10 fastest growing destinations for leisure travel spending between 2016 and 2026 would be India, Angola, Uganda, Brunei, Thailand, China, Myanmar, Oman, Mozambique and Vietnam.

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China’s pulling power

Within Asia, China is seeing the biggest tourism growth, with outbound trips set to reach 260 million by 2030. As well as becoming the biggest inbound market by 2030, domestic tourism is also taking off. And there will be 6.7 billion domestic trips by 2023, up from 4.7 billion in 2018.

How Chinese trips abroad will take off in the next decade Image: Euromonitor International

Geerts said: “Tourism is a key pillar of the Chinese economy, and much investment has been made to improve infrastructure and standards, in addition to tourism-friendly policies and initiatives.”

In the Forum’s 2017 index, China had moved up two places to be 15th in the rankings, with its exceptional natural and cultural resources to thank, as well as its increased international openness.

However, the report also noted China could enhance its competitiveness by doing more to “address environmental sustainability” (for which it ranked 132nd) and “to ensure the preservation of its unique natural resources”.

China has since changed its approach to the travel industry and is moving towards sustainable tourism.

In 2017, China National Tourism Association set guidelines on ‘all-for-one’ tourism demonstration zones to encourage local governments to improve tourism competitiveness and service quality - to boost regional economies.

Geerts notes: “The country is changing tack, and is looking at conservation, diversity of cultures and the natural environment as important aspects of a cohesive tourism offering.”

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