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ECONOMY

Chinese Globetrotters Far Outpace Foreign Counterparts Coming to Middle Kingdom

By Yang Rui and Wu Gang
A girl boards a plane at Hainan’s Meilan International Airport in Haikou, Hainan province, on Aug. 28, 2016. Photo: Visual China
A girl boards a plane at Hainan’s Meilan International Airport in Haikou, Hainan province, on Aug. 28, 2016. Photo: Visual China

The gap between the number of visits Chinese tourists made abroad and foreigners coming to China has reached more than 30 million, reflecting the urgent need for China to improve its visa policies and travel services, a think tank said in a recent report.

The gap, which is referred to as an “international tourists deficit,” could expand to 100 million in five years as a result of continued momentum of Chinese people traveling around the world and sluggish growth in China visitors, the Center for China and Globalization warned in a report on the trend of cross-border tourism.

In the past, few people noticed that the number of foreign tourists visiting China is actually significantly smaller than it appears. For example, the National Bureau of Statistics’ data said that tourists made 134 million visits to China in 2015, more than the number of Chinese people’s visits abroad, which was 128 million.

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In reality, foreigners only paid 25.98 million visits to the Chinese mainland in 2015, and Chinese mainlanders paid 57.62 million visits to foreign countries, about 32 million more than the inbound visits by foreigners. The discrepancy comes from Chinese authorities traditionally referring to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as overseas regions, the center said.As the country’s economy continues to grow, more Chinese people have been traveling out of the country for sightseeing, shopping and business trips. The number of visits Chinese people made abroad grew more than 300% between 2005 and 2015. In 2016, Chinese people paid 122 million visits abroad, according to data from the China Tourism Academy, keeping the country as the world’s biggest source of international travel.

However, the number of foreigners coming to China has not matched this growth.

During 2005-2015, the number of foreigners’ visits to China grew only 11.2%, much smaller than the average among other countries. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, developed countries saw 38.9% more inbound tourist visits in the same period, emerging economies saw 57.2% more, and Asia Pacific countries had growth of 81.3%.

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The gap between incoming and outgoing travel also led to a huge deficit in tourist revenue. According to a National Bureau of Statistics report released in February, China made $120 billion from tourists visiting the country in 2016, while Chinese people spent $261.1 billion traveling abroad.

“Tourists to China could be a new spot of growth for China’s economy,” said Wang Huiyao, director of the Center for China and Globalization. “The lack of people coming to China is not caused by the ‘hardware’ of China’s tourist system, but by the ‘soft environment,’ such as visa policies, the number of resident expatriates, tourist promotions in other countries, and cultural background,” Wang said.

Contact reporter Wu Gang (gangwu@caixin.com)

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