Thanks to its rising affluence, China is becoming an increasingly important source market for international tourists. In 2012, it was the fourth largest source market for outbound travellers according to Euromonitor International, and the country is expected to become the largest source market in 2017, surpassing Germany. Not surprisingly, regional destinations are the biggest beneficiaries of the Chinese boom, accounting for the bulk of the top 10 most popular destinations for Chinese tourists in 2012, but long-haul destinations dominate the remainder. Over the next five years, regional destinations will again benefit the most, although countries which amend their visa policies and procedures could quickly boost their Chinese arrival figures.
Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand the Top Destinations
For most first-time overseas travellers, Hong Kong and Macau are usually their first choice, thanks to proximity, affordability and lack of language barriers. The attractions of shopping and gambling are strong draws, particularly since the Chinese yuan has appreciated over the past few years.
South Korea also benefits from its proximity to China, with flights of only 1-3 hours. Since 2008, Chinese tourists arriving directly at Jeju Island have not needed a visa, which is another major draw. The Korean Wave (hallyu) – the popularity of all things Korean globally – is attracting many Chinese tourists who want to experience South Korea’s food and culture at first hand. And the popularity of Gangnam Style has certainly not hurt either.
Growing interest in Thai culture, known as T-Pop fever, is also a factor in the growing number of Chinese tourists in Thailand. Thai television soap operas, or lakorn, have been popular among Chinese viewers over the last few years. Some series use locations across the country, such as beach, mountain, farm and boutique resorts, which has driven demand for travel to Thailand.
China Now the Second Largest Source Market for Australia and New Zealand
In 2012, China became the second largest source market for Australia, behind only New Zealand. Tourism Australia dedicated a quarter of its budget in 2012 to China, promoting the country in primary and secondary cities. Additionally, Tourism Australia formed an alliance with China Southern Airlines, which is promoting Australia to Chinese consumers via the slogan “Australia, It’s Really Not That Far” in the hope of making Australia more attractive than the US and Europe.
China also became the second largest source market for New Zealand in 2012. During the year, the New Zealand government signed an agreement with China Southern Airlines to increase flight capacity between New Zealand and China. The new agreement allows each country to operate up to 21 return flights weekly (previously each country was only allowed to operate one return flight daily). In addition, the government agency Immigration New Zealand struck a deal with China Southern Airlines in 2012 to allow the fast-tracking of visitor visa applications for the airline’s gold and silver frequent flyer cardholders.
As a result of the agreement, China Southern Airlines’ gold and silver frequent flyer cardholders need not produce evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves as long as they can provide their flight history over the previous two years. The New Zealand government was considering extending this agreement to other airlines, primarily Air New Zealand, during the year.
Top 25 Countries for Arrivals from China in 2012
|Ranking||Country||2012 Arrivals (‘000 trips)||2012 % Growth|
|1||Hong Kong, China||15,110.4||11.1|
|19||United Arab Emirates||300.8||23.7|
Source: Euromonitor International
Changing Visa Policy and Processing Key to Attracting Chinese Tourists
While marketing and accommodating Chinese tastes in a destination are important to attracting Chinese tourists, relaxing visa requirements and improving visa processing procedures have proven to be sure-fire ways of boosting arrivals from China. Countries intent on capitalising on the growth in Chinese international travel will continue to evaluate and improve their policies.
South Korea is a good example of a country with an evolving visa policy with regard to Chinese tourists, eliminating visas for Chinese travellers arriving directly at Jeju Island in 2008 and 2010, South Korea began issuing multiple-entry visas valid for three years to people working in a range of professions, such as teachers, and employees of the largest companies in China. This move helped boost arrivals from China by 260% over 2008-2012. In 2013, the country has announced that it will issue visas to Chinese citizens registered as residents in Beijing and Shanghai and those who own timeshares worth Won30 million (US$26,740). Spouses and children of Chinese citizens who hold multiple-entry visas will also be eligible to apply, along with students from the top 112 universities.
There are many more examples of countries improving their visa procedures to welcome more Chinese travellers. Germany and France opened a joint visa processing centre in autumn 2012 to expedite the processing of visa applications. The UK, which has come under fire for an arduous visa process, outlined in December 2012 that it is aiming to simplify its visa issuance to Chinese tourists, although the UK travel industry insists that more could be done. Thailand announced in August 2013 that it is discussing a bilateral tourist visa exemption with China that could be implemented this September. It is likely that more countries will follow these examples to boost inbound tourism from China.
Top 25 Fastest Growing Countries for Arrivals from China 2012-2017
|Ranking||Country||2012-2017 Absolute Growth in Chinese Arrivals (‘000 trips)||Arrivals in 2017|
|1||Hong Kong, China||4,629.4||19,739.8|
|17||United Arab Emirates||464.0||764.7|
Source: Euromonitor International
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