China’s Tourism Miracle Booms Over Past 20 Years

Tourists at the Great Wall of China
China continues to retain its standing at the world’s second largest collector of tourism revenue (Photo: Asadal / Wikimedia Commons)

The World Tourism Organization reported in 1998 that China could rise into fourth place in the outbound travel market by 2020. Dragon Trail Interactive, a digital marketing agency, called the growth in international travellers from the Middle Kingdom "the China tourism miracle".

Leisure travel in China is criticized as a wasteful, bourgeois activity before Deng Xiaoping introduced policies for "reform and opening up in 1978. After the implementation of the policies, overseas adventurers started their travels. During that time, trips are still organized by the state-owned China Travel Service and travellers are only allowed to select travel locations in Southeast Asia from the early 1990s. Chinese citizens were later allowed to go to other places. According to the description of Wolfgang Georg Arlt in his 2006 book, China's Outbound Tourism, travel is out of reach for the vast majority of Chinese during the early years of authorized travel because of the high costs for the expeditions.

At first, Chinese travellers travelled in groups to avail package tours. The travellers are known as flag-following, rabble-rousing, coach-hopping mainland Chinese tourist that endures. During the second wave Chinese tourism which features more sophisticated travellers, Asia Dialogue, the online magazine of the University of Nottingham's Asia Research Institute, in Britain, identified the new batch as middle-aged people who were well educated, earning a high salary, and had previous international travel experience. The recent batch of Chinese travellers was determined by Asia Dialogue as upper-class and middle-aged.

The profile of Chinese travellers evolved through the ages. The same can be said with the way they are received by the world. Recently, China topped the tourism charts. China surpassed the predictions of the World Tourism Organization in 1998. The country became the world's largest outbound market in 2017. The rise of China in tourism outbound placed pressure to sensitive sites including Thailand's Maya Bay and Jeju Island, in South Korea.

Mobile payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay contributed to China's tourism. The platforms facilitated consumerism and they are growing across Asia. The platforms are also enjoying their growing presence globally. Their services are used from Australian Taxis to Canadian convenience stores. Cultural exchange blossomed and Chinese tourists are found in many destinations from the Scottish highlands to restaurants in Israel. The destinations sought Mandarin speakers and chiefs to accommodate the flooding of Chinese travellers. Other nations, however, failed to capture the possibility of gathering Chinese tourists. New Zealand, for example, is out of the list for Chinese tourism after the ban of Huawei in their 5G network development.

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