[photopress:travel_china_tourism.jpg,full,alignright]The forecast was that China would overtake France as the number one tourism destination in 2020. That, perhaps, now needs to be updated. According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO) China will probably do it by 2014.
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.
And then comes the Olympics and Expo 2010. That will, Xu Jing said, give it another shot in the arm so that China will nip past France for pole position by 2014.
In 1978 the number of foreign visitors to China was just 300,000. The writer was one of them.
In 2006 it reached 22 million. And that, note carefully, excludes arrivals from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. These figures are from the China National Tourism Administration but are in accordance with figures from other sources.
France has had a bit of a slow down in tourism growth. That is more and more tourists still go there but the rate of increase is not what it was. Meanwhile, China has been enjoying double-digit expansion for years, with the number of tourist arrivals doubling in the past five years alone.
Foreign tour operators and airlines are expanding services to meet growing demand in Beijing and across the country. Eric Bouladou, Asian manager for French firm Nouvelles Frontieres, said, ‘Our China business has grown 20 per cent annually over recent years.’
What could throw these figures off is the advent of ultra-cheap flights and fast trains around Europe. For example, RyanAir this week is actually giving away seats to assorted places on its, admittedly spartan, flights.
And the air fares to France are set to tumble further when the two hour train service through the Channel Tunnel comes into operation in October. Then some people are seriously thinking of practically commuting to work. Live a long weekend in Paris but have two or three days working week in London.
If that happens the French figures will get a shot in the arm. Which means that China will not pass France in tourist figures until the date originally forecast — 2020.