Make China great again

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Home to architectural marvels like the Great Wall, China – with its myraid attractions – should attract more inbound tourists.

Why are inbound tourism numbers into China, a country steeped in culture and heritage, lagging behind its booming outbound sector?

China may be the world’s largest tourist source but the country is punching below its weight as a global travel destination. Despite its splendid history, culture and culinary traditions, the number of international arrivals to China has yet to surpass 30 million, a meagre figure compared to the 122 million Chinese outbound travellers in 2016.

The vast “inbound tourism trade deficit” was an issue that Ctrip co-founder and chairman James Liang sought to highlight during his keynote address at the ITB China conference in Shanghai earlier this year.

To put things into perspective, Liang compared China’s 29.2 million inbound travellers (excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) with the US (75.1 million), Japan (28.7 million), the UK (37.6 million), India (14.6 million) and Turkey (39.9 million).

“China received just 30 million in actual figures for arrivals, which have not changed in years,” Liang remarked, a far cry from its booming outbound sector.

Visa policy a hindrance
To get a handle of vast discrepancy between China’s inbound and outbound figures, the Ctrip top honcho compared the country’s visa policy with that of others.

China has just 14 countries on its visa-exemption list, significantly less than the US (38), Japan (68), the UK (56) and Turkey (78). Only India, with a similar population size as China, allows fewer countries visa-free entry (three), although it also has an e-visa system in place, Liang noted.

Of the opinion that China’s restrictive visa policy is standing in its way to attract more international arrivals, Liang added that according to UNWTO, there are only five other countries in the world with stricter inbound visa restrictions than China, namely Nigeria, Gabon, Pakistan, Angola and Saudi Arabia.

China Tourism Academy’s head of international tourism research Yiyi Jiang agrees that restrictive visa policy poses a hindrance to visitors, but also argues that the Chinese inbound sector is more developed than the outbound sector, which only took off after 2000.

“China’s inbound tourism market has been opened since the country’s economic reform (in 1978), so the market can’t grow forever. It’s already a mature sector,” she posited.
As well, the Chinese economy has grown by leaps and bounds in the intervening years, pushing up living costs and salaries. What hasn’t changed as fast though are visitor perceptions, with potential travellers still viewing China as the world’s factory and a destination with cheap prices, Exo Travel China’s managing director Olivier Marchesin asserted.

“Real estate today in the big Chinese cities is much more expensive than in their European and American counterparts, so this impacts everything in the market, from salary to food,” he shared.

“When we send China quotations, (clients) are surprised by the prices. They often give up (on visiting China) when they see the rates.”

Read full article at TTG Asia:

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