Outbound tourism from China remains a highly regulated affair. The government operates a vetting system that confers approved destination status (ADS) to receiving countries.
A nation attains approved destination status when a bilateral agreement is created with China. This involves input not only from the China National Tourism Administration, but also the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Public Security, according to a 2003 paper by the UN World Tourism Organization. One of the ADS regime’s goals is to control foreign exchange outflows, the paper added.
The ADS regime also restricts group travel. Chinese tour operators are not allowed to organize or promote group activities to non-ADS destinations. The regime does not limit overseas travel by individual passport holders.
Hong Kong and Macau were granted ADS in 1983, just four years after China began its landmark economic reforms. Thailand was the next country on the ADS list, achieving that status in 1988. Singapore and Malaysia followed two years later. All ASEAN countries, with the exception of Laos, are now approved destinations.
By contrast, the ADS regime has kept tour groups out of other regions. Australia was the first non-Asian country to receive ADS, in 1999.