China sees major rebounds in outbound, inbound tourism

China’s tourism industry is experiencing a strong comeback, reclaiming its position as top spender on the international market in 2023.

Data from the United Nations Tourism shows that Chinese tourists abroad spent 196.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2023, topping the list of outbound tourism expenditure. The figure surpassed that of other major players, with the United States at 150 billion dollars and Germany at 112 billion dollars.

In the meantime, China is also witnessing a resurgence of inbound tourism this year faster than expected.

China’s central and local governments have announced policy packages targeting major hindrances for foreign tourists, ranging from visa-free policies to easier mobile payments and reservation procedures.

During the Dragon Boat Festival holiday in early June, the Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, home to the legendary terracotta warriors in Xi’an, welcomed a total of 122,877 visits, with the number of overseas visitors up by 150 percent from the same period last year.

“We introduced a platform on April 3, allowing tourists from 39 countries and regions to use 24 languages and 29 currencies to make reservations. It has helped more than 5,700 foreign tourists in the following month,” said Zhou Ping, deputy head of the museum, adding that group booking services for inbound tourists are now accessible to almost 40 travel agencies.

Similar measures are adopted in many other cities. “Shanghai Pass,” a multi-purpose prepaid card for foreign visitors launched on May 19, can be accepted for payment purposes at tourist spots and convenience stores in Shanghai as well as public transportation in over 330 Chinese cities.

Major sightseeing destinations are embracing rebounds in overseas tourists. Beijing welcomed a total of about 469,000 foreign visitors in the first quarter of this year, which is more than three-fold of the same period in 2023. Particularly noteworthy is the substantial increase in travelers from Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg, which rose almost five times during the period year on year, thanks to a visa-free policy on a trial basis implemented since March 14.

These efforts have captured the hearts of an increasing number of foreign tourists.

Meanwhile, foreign tourists shared their travel experience in China through vlogs on platforms like YouTube and TikTok. These videos often feature themes on high-speed railways, local delicacies and traditional culture, highlighting the growing global interest in Chinese tourism.

Among them, a family of five from the United Kingdom hogged the limelight on YouTube. Their trip in China since March has taken them to Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Chengdu, among other cities. One popular clip featuring their three daughters adorned in traditional Chinese Hanfu clothing amassed over 80,000 views.

According to the UN Tourism’s World Tourism Barometer, which monitors short-term global tourism trends, international tourist arrivals in 2023 recovered to 89 percent of that in 2019. It expected a full recovery of the international tourism this year with arrivals up 2 percent above the 2019 level, noting that rebounds in China and other major Asian countries would be a core pillar.

“It is true that the escalation of geopolitical tensions is still causing headwinds on international tourism, but strong growth momentum stemmed from pent-up demand and preferential policies are catalyzing cross-border traveling,” said Liang Xuecheng, professor of Northwest University in Xi’an, underlying the role of tourism in cultural exchange.

“Anything that makes it easier to travel is important. Tourism and culture go hand in hand. And with tourism, it’s an opportunity to learn more about each other and realize how much we have in common,” noted Robert Nederlander JR., president and CEO of Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment from the U.S.

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