“Overseas Tourism” by Chinese Tourists Has Begun


The other day, I saw pictures on TV of a tour group of Chinese from the southern city of Guangzhou, who were visiting Kyushu. The tourists visited a hot spring, enjoyed Japanese food and went shopping in a Japanese supermarket; in response to the reporter’s question “How much money did you bring with you?”, three of them answered 500,000, 600,000 and 900,000 yen respectively. Apparently, the average amount spent by each tourist in that supermarket was 200,000 yen. This tour group must have spent a considerable amount of money in Japan, so it is anticipated that China will become a profitable tourist market for Japan.

The members of the Chinese tour group mentioned at the beginning of this article are almost certainly from the particularly affluent echelons of society. Few people, even in Japan, would take 500,000-600,000 yen with them on a foreign holiday and they seldom spend 200,000 on a shopping trip in a supermarket.

Chinese tourists originally began to travel overseas at the end of the 20th century. According to the most recent Chinese statistics, the number of Chinese leaving the country in 2000 was about 10 million, about twice the number of those who left the country in 1996 (see table below). Almost half of these – 4.8418 million – were traveling abroad for non-business purposes. This is a minuscule figure when one considers that China has a population of 1.3 billion, but if the Chinese people become sufficiently affluent and the number of them traveling abroad rose to one-tenth of that population (130 million), this would be of great benefit to the global tourism market.

Number of Chinese Traveling Oversea

Year No. of Travelers Increase on previous year
1996 5,060,700 12%
1997 5,323,900 5%
1998 8,425,600 58%
1999 9,232,400 9.6%
2000 10,472,600 13.4%

Drawn up on the basis of tourism statistics published by China’s State Tourism Administration

It may seem a little too unrealistic to talk about 10% of the Chinese population traveling overseas, but this is not necessarily a fantasy. This is because the Chinese domestic tourism market has recently begun to grow rapidly. According to statistics, about 800 million Chinese – more than 50% of the population – traveled within China in 2002. The maturing of the domestic tourism market is highly likely to lead to increased foreign tourism and the World Trade Organization has forecast that the number of outbound tourists from China will reach 30.3 million in 2010, rising to 100 million in 2020.

This is probably the first time in China’s history that so many of its people have crossed its borders of their own will for the purposes of foreign tourism. Of course, we still cannot say that China has entered the age of mass tourism and mass leisure pursuits. However, it is a fact that, as a result of China’s steady economic growth in recent years, standards of living have improved and there has been a change in people’s values. In particular, the modes of living of people who have become affluent are changing, and one of the things that people aspire to is to go on sightseeing trips. In the China of today, it is a fact that it is still not easy to travel overseas as there are various obstacles to this. Accordingly, foreign travel is becoming a status symbol and something for which people yearn.

According to statistics for 1998, the three most popular destinations for Chinese tourists were Southeast Asia (27.3%), Europe (25.01%) and the US (13.2%). When they travel abroad, most Chinese tend to visit places that are close to China, but given that long-distance travel to Europe and the US accounts for 38% of all travel by Chinese, we can see that there is an increasing trend towards long-distance overseas travel.

Amid this situation, the number of Chinese traveling to Japan is also increasing annually, but even according to statistics for 2001, only about 400,000 of the 10 million Chinese who traveled abroad came to Japan. This is one problem in the field of tourism exchange between Japan and China.

In the 21st century, China could well launch itself into the mainstream of global tourism and become a major tourism market, changing the pattern of worldwide tourism.

[Translated by ERINA]