Top spot by 2014
Originally expected to overtake France as the number one tourism destination in 2020, China is now tipped to do so six years earlier, according to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).
Xu Jing, the WTO’s Asia-Pacific representative, said China is set to overtake the US, currently in third place, this year in terms of foreign visitor arrivals.
With an expected boost from next year's Beijing Olympics, and another shot in the arm supplied by the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, China will overtake France by 2014, Xu said.
From just 300,000 in 1978, the number of foreign visitors to China reached 22 million in 2006, excluding arrivals from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, says the China National Tourism Administration.
While tourism growth in France has been slow, China has been enjoying double-digit expansion for years, with the number of tourist arrivals doubling in the past five years alone.
Meanwhile, foreign tour operators and airlines are expanding services to meet growing demand in Beijing and across the country. “Our China business has grown 20 per cent annually over recent years,” said Eric Bouladou, Asian manager for French firm Nouvelles Frontieres.
He said China’s appeal is explained by the variety of destinations on offer, he said. From tranquillity in Tibet’s remote mountains to ancient archaeological sites such as the Terracotta Warriors in Xian and parties in the big cities, China has it all.
Not to mention several types of Chinese food.
By Clark Kelly