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Chinese outbound tourism not an 'evolution', but 'a revolution': UNWTO official

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-05-10 08:17

A chinese tourist takes a selfie in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, May 5, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

MADRID - The development of China as a source market for international tourism over recent years is not so much an "evolution" but a "revolution", said a high-ranking member of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Xu Jing, the UNWTO Regional Director for the Asia-Pacific Area, told Xinhua that the growth of numbers of Chinese people visiting other countries was a "a real revolution," as he discussed 2016 spending results which showed that Chinese tourists had spent 12 percent more in travelling abroad than they had in the previous year.

UNWTO figures show that Chinese tourists spent $261 billion in other countries, while the number of outbound Chinese travelers increased by 6 percent to 135 million in 2016.

For Xu Jing, a key factor was that "when Chinese outbound tourism started, it began with such a low volume, it was unknown to the rest of the World," while since 2004, "Chinese outbound tourism has enjoyed consecutive double-digit growth."

He explained that one factor behind this is that while other counties have seen their outbound tourism develop slowly over time, as the fashion for international tourism developed in the 1960's 70's and 80's; the Chinese "were total newcomers, so they came with a totally different behavior and consumption pattern."

"They came in big volume, but they went into niche markets where traditional markets were unable to touch; they penetrated the shopping markets and other niche markets like rural tourism and gastronomy."

"These characterize the ongoing Chinese market," said Xu Jing.

It is clear that the increase in outbound tourism has coincided with China's spectacular economic growth and the rise of a middle class with disposable income, but in the year of Tourism for Sustainable Development the UNWTO are at pain to highlight the benefit this brings to other countries.

"With a high percentage of Chinese tourists visiting other Asian counties such as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, this has contributed socially to the welfare of these countries," explained Xu Jing, who said the effects ran deeper than just providing employment.

"We emphasize not only the economic growth, but also social goals, like poverty reduction and the empowerment of women"

"The Chinese market is and will continue to contribute to the overall social prosperity of the world;" he commented, adding that the fact Chinese people use the internet to make reservations means they "go to the less known corners of the world."

"On one hand, they are contributing to shopping and gastronomy tourism, but more importantly they are also a very strong force to those less developed areas when it comes to community development and that contribution," he told Xinhua.

Finally Xu Jing sees a secondary benefit to increased outbound Chinese tourism; as well as helping to lift the burden on the internal Chinese market, especially on key holiday periods such as the Spring Festival, greater numbers of international travelers "are certainly contributing to peace and more importantly to the mutual understanding between the Chinese people on one hand and people of the rest of the world on the other."

"It is a cultural exchange and a process of mutual understanding and for the Chinese it is a question of internationalization in both an economic and a social sense," said Xu Jing.

And with just 4 percent of the Chinese population owning a passport, compared to 37 percent of Americans, the "revolution" looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

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