Skift Take

Chinese tourists are the world's biggest spenders. That arms Beijing with a geopolitical tool. The not-so-secret weapon shows no signs of diminishing in its effectiveness to redirect tourism flows.

The more destinations woo Chinese travelers because of the size of the market and its spending power, the stronger a geopolitical tool tourism is for China.

Mainland China has jumped from seventh position in 2009 to second — behind only the United States — as the world’s largest source of travelers to overseas destinations, according to Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index on where travelers originate, released last month.

Although the U.S. generates more travelers, Chinese tourists are the world’s largest spenders, expending $228 billion in 2017, compared with $120 billion by Americans, UNWTO’s World Tourism Barometer March/April 2018 shows.

Destinations know this. So does Beijing, which is increasingly wielding the tourism weapon, either in the form of travel bans, travel warnings, or even political announcements in the state media, which can turn off the tap of Chinese tourists to a destination. The most recent examples include suspending a program that allows individual tourists to travel to Taiwan, or cautioning citizens, including students, against travel to or studying in the U.S.

The weapon stings. Just ask Palau, where a China travel ban, due to its support of Taiwan, decimated the tiny island’s top market in 2017 and forced airlines to axe links. Or Jeju Island, a big casualty in the 2017 spat between China and South Korea over a missile system.

There is a good argument that says the weapon is losing its sting as Chinese tourists become wealthier and more confident to travel independently rather than in group tours. But while that may be true of the sophisticated repeat travelers, the fact remains China has many more millions that are first-time travelers, and they are convenient for countries wanting a quick boost in earnings via the tourism route.

This is why the not-so-secret tourism weapon of China will remain sharp.

— Raini Hamdi, Skift Asia Editor, [email protected], @RainiHamdi

Skift Stories and More Expert Insights

What If Hong Kong Falls? The Worst-Case Scenario for Travel: As weeks of protests escalate in Hong Kong and Beijing weighs its options, it’s not hard to imagine Hong Kong’s successful tourism industry becoming a shell of its former self. Though the conventional wisdom from region insiders is that Hong Kong will prevail, the form that it will take is anyone’s guess.

Travel Winners and Losers in Northeast Asia’s Conflicts: Current conflicts in Northeast Asia do not stop people from traveling to and from the region, but they do redirect tourism flows, benefiting some destinations and hurting others.

Accor’s Love Hotels Deal in Singapore Raises Eyebrows — and Admiration: Accor’s latest Fragrance deal shines a spotlight on two owners that became tycoons by operating love hotels. It is a swift and smart move by the global chain. We bet Accor competitors are calling the other love chain, Hotel 81.

Why Skyscanner Is Closing Its Stand-Alone Local Recommendations App: Skyscanner, owned by Chinese travel giant Ctrip, will close Trip by Skyscanner next month, marking the end of the user-generated travel planning mobile app and website founded in 2010 under the brand Gogobot. Looks to Asia-Pacific for More Travel Deals: On the back of an impressive set of first-half results, is casting the net further afield in the search for new acquisitions. Buying up companies in other parts of the world doesn’t always work out, so executives will have to choose wisely.

Accor’s Franchise Deal in Singapore Underscores Mounting Challenges for Budget Chain Oyo: The one thing budget hotel upstarts have done is make global hotel chains hungrier for their sector, especially high-growth markets such as Southeast Asia. Oyo probably knows this; it has named a CEO for the region.

Asia Editor Raini Hamdi [[email protected]] curates the Skift Asia Weekly newsletter. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.

Subscribe to Skift’s Free Asia Weekly Newsletter


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: accor, china, hong kong, skift asia weekly, skyscanner, travel advisories

Photo credit: Hong Kong protests. Chinese outbound travelers are a powerful geopolitical tool for China. Bloomberg

Up Next

Loading next stories