Tourism in China

Tourism in China is a growing industry that is becoming a significant part of the Chinese economy. The rate of tourism has greatly expanded over the last few decades since the beginning of reform and opening-up. The emergence of a newly rich middle class and an easing of restrictions on movement by the Chinese authorities are both fueling this travel boom. China has become one of world's largest outbound tourist markets. According to Euromonitor International, economic growth and higher incomes in nearby Asian countries will help China to become the world’s number one tourist destination by 2030.[1]

Shanghai's skyline attracts foreign and domestic tourists to view it from the Bund
Kuling Poster in the 1920 s, kuling town, Mountain Lu, Jiujiang (China)

China ranked second in the world for travel and tourism's contribution to GDP in 2014 ($943.1 billion), and first in the world for travel and tourism's contribution to employment (66,086,000 jobs in 2014). Tourism, based on direct, indirect, and induced impact, accounted for 9.3 percent of China's GDP in 2013.[2] In 2017, the total contributions of China's Travel and Tourism sector made up 11% of its GDP.[3] In 2018, the domestic tourism sector contributed around USD 1.47 trillion to the nation's GDP.[4]

Since 2012, tourists from China have been the world's top spender in international tourism, leading global outbound travel. In 2016, the country accounted for 21% of the world's international tourism spending, or $261 billion.[5] (Do note that the stats include journeys made to the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Taiwan; in 2017, these accounted for 69.5m of the so-called "overseas" journeys.) As of 2018, only 7% of Chinese had a passport, so the "potential for further growth is staggering", according to a UK news report.[6]


Tourists inside the Forbidden City, Beijing (Peking)

Between 1949 and 1978, the People’s Republic of a China was closed to all of the tourists and tourism in China means diplomatic reception. Despite of the closure, Modern tourism in communist Mainland China began in the late 1940s/early 1950s following the establishment of the China Travel Service on October 1, 1949 as the first travel agency to set up in the New China which tasked with marketing China to the rest of the world and to promote and develop its modern tourism economy. In 1954, many of the international travel bureaus (including the China International Travel Service) were established with more than over 14 branches in 14 major Chinese cities including Beijing (Peking), Shanghai and Guangzhou (Canton). In 1964, China began to develop its modern tourism industry following the establishment of the now-dissolved China National Tourism Administration (formerly the China State Tourism Administration and the China Travel and Tourism Administration). In the late 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping decided to promote tourism vigorously as a means of earning foreign exchange, China's tourism has entered a stage of rapid development starting with the Chinese economic reform in 1978. Major hotel construction programs greatly increased the number of hotels and guest houses, more historic and scenic spots were renovated and opened to tourists, and professional guides and other service personnel were trained.[citation needed] In 2018, the Chinese Hotel industry had a large pipeline of 2,500 new hotel projects.[7]

Bridge at Nanxi Street over Puhuitang River
Lantern Festival in Nanjing

The expansion of domestic and international airline traffic and other tourist transportation facilities made travel more convenient. Over 250 cities and countries had been opened to foreign visitors by the mid-1980s. Travellers needed only valid visas or residence permits to visit 100 locations; the remaining locales required travel permits from public security departments. In 1985 approximately 1.4 million foreigners visited China, and nearly US$1.3 billion was earned from tourism.[8] In 2015, China was the fourth most visited country in the world, after France, United States, and Spain, with 56.9 million international tourists per year.[9] In 2017, tourism contributed about CNY 8.77 trillion (US$1.45 trillion), 11.04% of the GDP, and contributed direct and indirect employment of up to 28.25 million people. There were 139.48 million inbound trips and five billion domestic trips.[10][11]


Sightseeing boats ply the river in Shanghai, providing just a tiny percent of the revenue from tourism

China has become a major tourist destination following its reform and opening to the world in the late 1970s instigated by Deng Xiaoping. In 1978, China received about 230,000 international foreign tourists, mostly because of the severe limitations that the government placed on who was allowed to visit the country and who was not.[12]

Data from 2016 showed that the majority of foreign visitors hailed from Asian countries with South Korea being the top source country for China inbound tourism. Among the number of tourist arrivals, a substantial 81.06 million are from Hong Kong, 23.5 million from Macau and 5.73 million coming from Taiwan. The number of foreigners visiting China in the same year, was 28.15 million.[13]

In the same year, overnight visitors increased 4.2% over the same period of 2015 to 59.27 million (of which over 60% came from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan).[2]

Visitor statisticsEdit

Most visitors arriving in China were from the following areas of residence or countries of nationality:[14][15][16][17]

Country/Territory 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
  Hong Kong   79,370,000   79,800,000   81,060,000   79,448,100   76,131,700   76,884,600
  Macau   25,150,000   24,650,000   23,500,000   22,888,200   20,639,900   20,740,300
  Taiwan   6,140,000   5,870,000   5,730,000   5,498,600   5,365,900   5,162,500
  South Korea   4,193,000   3,863,800   4,775,300   4,444,400   4,181,700   3,969,000
  Japan   2,691,000   2,683,000   2,588,990   2,497,700   2,717,600   2,877,500
  United States   2,485,000   2,312,900   2,249,600   2,085,800   2,093,200   2,085,300
  Russia   2,415,000   2,356,800   1,976,600   1,582,300   2,045,800   2,186,300
  Vietnam N/A N/A N/A   2,160,800   1,709,400   1,365,400
  Mongolia   1,916,000   1,864,500   1,581,200   1,014,100   1,082,700   1,050,000
  Malaysia   1,291,000   1,233,200   1,165,400   1,075,500   1,129,400   1,206,500
  Philippines   1,205,000   1,168,500   1,135,100   1,004,000   967,900   996,700
  Pakistan N/A N/A   949,000   1,141,500   1,113,100   1,151,700
  Singapore   978,000   941,200   924,600   905,300   971,400   966,600
  India   864,000   822,000   799,700   730,500   710,000   677,000
  Canada   850,000   806,000   741,300   679,800   667,100   684,200
  Thailand   833,000   776,700   753,500   641,500   613,000   651,700
  Australia   752,000   734,300   675,100   637,300   672,000   723,000
Total (excluding Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan)   30,543,000   29,165,300   28,150,120   25,985,400   26,361,000   26,290,000


Some form of Chinese is virtually universal in China, with Mandarin as the standard form and many other varieties also in use; some, like Cantonese and Shanghainese, have tens of millions of speakers. Although the vast majority of Chinese do not speak English, due to the educational system, many Chinese near and in urban areas can read and write it, even though they may have difficulty with spoken English.[citation needed]

According to research completed by The Daily Telegraph in 2017, less than 1 percent of people (some 10 million) in China speak English conversationally.[18]

Tourist Attraction Rating CategoriesEdit

Tourism in China
Temple of Heaven, an AAAAA-rated tourist attraction in Beijing
Simplified Chinese旅游景区质量等级
Traditional Chinese旅遊景區質量等級
Literal meaningTourist Scenic Area Quality Ranking

Tourist Attraction Rating Categories (Chinese: 旅游景区质量等级) is a rating system used by the Chinese authorities to determine the quality of the attraction relative to its peers in terms of safety, sanitation and transportation. It is broken up into five categories which are A (or 1A, the lowest level), AA (2A), AAA (3A), AAAA (4A) and AAAAA (5A, the highest level).

The categories are awarded based on, amongst other factors, the importance of the site, transportation, tours as well as issues related to safety and sanitation. The system was established in 1999 and extended in 2004 (when the category AAAAA was introduced). The ratings are administered by the China National Tourism Administration[needs update] (CNTA) and are based on the code "Categories and Rating Standard of Tourist Attractions".[19]

Ratings alternate Level Quantity
A 1A lowest 130
AA 2A 927
AAA 3A 521
AAAA 4A 785 (by 2006)[19]
AAAAA 5A highest 279 (by 2020)[20]


Notable ancient capitalsEdit

Renowned historic cities and old townsEdit

Grand Canal tour boat of a traditional style
Old City God Temple in Shanghai
Tour boats in Suzhou, the "Venice of the East"

Famous sitesEdit

Numerous tourists visit parts of the Great Wall, including the section at Juyongguan
Hall of Supreme Harmony at the Forbidden City
Sculptures at the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity in the Summer Palace
The Bund after dark, Shanghai
Sunset at Sanya Bay, Hainan

Tourist resourcesEdit

Tourist resources in China can be divided into three main groups: natural sites, historical and cultural sites, and folk customs. China hosts the world's largest number of World Heritage Sites (55)

Natural sitesEdit

The terraced rice paddies of Yuanyang County, Yunnan
Zhang jia jie

China's mountains, lakes, valleys, caves and waterfalls:

Mount Tai (Tai Shan) in the east, Mount Hengshan in the south, Mount Hua in the west, Mount Hengshan in the north, and Mount Song in the center of China have been called the Five Sacred Mountains since antiquity. The Taishan massif, which snakes through central Shandong, is admired by Chinese as paramount among them. Another mountain celebrated for its beauty is Huangshan in southern Anhui, known for its graceful pines, unusual rocks, cloud seas and hot springs.

Jiuzhaigou, Huangguoshu Waterfall, and Guilin are all located in southwestern China. Jiuzhaigou in northern Sichuan is a beautiful "fairyland valley" running over 40 km through snow-covered mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and forest. The Huangguoshu Waterfalls in Guizhou are a group of waterfalls, 18 above-ground and four below, which can be heard from five km away. The Li River in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region winds its way through karst peaks for 82 km between Guilin and Yangshuo.

On the plateau in northern China are many spectacular lakes. The Tianchi (Heavenly Pool) in the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang Autonomous Region is 1,980 meters above sea level. This 105-m-deep lake is crystal clear, the high mountains surrounding it carpeted with green grass and colorful flowers.

Along the renowned Three Gorges of the Yangtze River are many scenic spots and historical sites; the Qutang Gorge is rugged and majestic, the Wu Gorge elegant, deep and secluded, the Xiling Gorge full of shoals and reefs and rolling water. The Lesser Three Gorges are lush with greenery, flanking water so clear you can see to the bottom. The Three Gorges Dam built here is China's biggest key hydro-power project.

Historical and cultural sitesEdit

Beauties Wearing Flowers, by Zhou Fang, 8th century

China's long history has left many cultural relics and the title of "China Top Tourist City" has gone to the first group of 54 cities. The Great Wall, a symbol of the Chinese nation, is also a prime example of historical sites that have become major tourist attractions. As the greatest defense-structure project in the history of human civilization, it dates back more than 2,000 years ago to the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods - huge in its scale and grandeur. There are more than ten sections of the Great Wall open to tourists, including the passes, blockhouses and beacon towers at Badaling in Beijing, Laolongtou in Hebei and Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu.

Grottoes filled with precious murals and sculptures are concentrated along the ancient Silk Road in Gansu. The best known are the Mogao Caves, a "treasure house of oriental art", with 492 caves with murals and statues on the cliff faces. There are 45,000 sq m of murals and over 2,100 colorful statues, all of high artistry. In the south, grotto art is represented in Sichuan by the Leshan Giant Buddha, carved into a cliff face. Seventy-one meters high and 28 meters wide, it is the largest sitting Buddha in stone, showing the carving skill of ancient craftsmen.

The Shaolin Temple in Henan, the birthplace of Chinese Zen Buddhism and famous for its Shaolin Kung Fu martial arts, dates back to 495 AD. Here can be seen the Ming period Five-Hundred-Arhats Mural and Qing period Shaolin kungfu paintings. In Hubei, the beautiful Wudang Mountain, with 72 peaks covering an area of 30 km2 (12 sq mi), form a sacred site of Taoism, which preserves one of China's most complete and largest-scale ancient Taoist architecture. In western Sichuan, Mount Emei, dotted with ancient Buddhist temples and structures, is one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains。

Most of China's 101[citation needed] cities classified as famous historical and cultural cities are over 1,000 years old. South of the Yangtze River, Suzhou and Hangzhou, long known as "paradise on earth", are crisscrossed with rivers, lakes, bridges, fields and villages, as beautiful as paintings. Today's well-preserved ancient cities includes that of Pingyao in central Shanxi, but was also the site of the Neolithic era Yangshao and Longshan cultures, 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Ancient Lijiang in Yunnan is not only the center of Dongba culture of the Nakhi ethnic group but also a meeting place for the cultures of Han, Tibetan and Bai ethnicities. Built in the Song dynasty, this city has many stone bridges, stone memorial arches and dwelling houses, which provide precious materials for architectural history and can be called a "living museum of ancient dwelling houses."

Folk customsEdit

"March Street" celebrated by the Bai people in Dali, Yunnan, is associated with the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy suppressing a devil to help the Bai people. It became traditional to burn incense and offer sacrifices to commemorate her virtues every year and the festival has become a major annual gathering for Bai commercial, cultural and sports activities.

The Water-Sprinkling Festival of the Dai ethnic group in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, is a lively occasion taking place in the spring. People chase and pour water (a symbol of good luck and happiness) over each other, among other activities such as dragon boat racing and peacock dance.

Lugu Lake between Sichuan and Yunnan has become a tourist destination following the building of a new highway giving access to this area. The matriarchal society of the 30,000 local Mosuo people is noted for its "no marriage" traditions and is called the last women's kingdom on the earth. Mosuo women, local dugout canoes and undulating singing style are considered unique to Lugu Lake.

Tourist themesEdit

The China National Tourism Administration promotes a tourist theme every year; 1992 was "Friendly Sightseeing Year." Then came "Landscape Tour", "Tour of Cultural Relics and Historical Sites", "Folk Customs Tour", "Holiday Tour", and "Ecological Environment Tour." From 2000 to 2004, the themes were "Century Year", "Sports and Health of China", "Folk Arts of China", and "Culinary Kingdom of China", and "Catch the Lifestyle."[citation needed]

The themes for 2005 were "China Travel Year" and "Beijing 2008 -- Welcome to China." In order to strengthen exchange and cooperation with the international tourism industry, the China National Travel Administration is planning a series of related events, including the Shanghai-hosted "2005 International Tourism Fair of China", the Beijing-hosted 2005 annual meeting of the Federation of Travel Agencies of France, and "the 2005 China-Australia Tourism Symposium." The China International Online Travel Fair 2005 held in March was comprehensive, providing an online exchange and trading platform between tour companies themselves and with their customers.[citation needed]

Since 2013, all regions in China have had tourism publicity events under the "Beautiful China" umbrella, but with a different theme for each area.[citation needed] The year 2018 was declared as "Beautiful China – Year of Integrated Tourism" while 2017 was declared as "Beautiful China – Year of Silk Road Tourism".[21]

Tourist servicesEdit

A guide leads a group of Norwegian tourists to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing

The fast development of China's transportation infrastructure provides wide-ranging travel for domestic and overseas tourists. Throughout China a great many hotels and restaurants have been constructed, renovated or expanded to satisfy all levels of requirement, including many with five or six star ratings. All large or medium-sized cities and scenic spots have hotels with complete facilities and services for both domestic and international visitors.[citation needed]

China has regulated international travel agencies. On June 12, 2003, the China National Tourism Administration and the Ministry of Commerce jointly issued Interim Regulations on the Establishment of Foreign-funded or Wholly Foreign-owned Travel Agencies. On July 18, 2003, the China National Travel Administration approved the registration of JALPAK International (China) Ltd. as the first wholly foreign-owned travel company to enter China's tourist market, mainly handling Japanese tourism in China. On December 1, 2003, TUI China Travel Company was formally established in Beijing—the first overseas-controlled joint venture in China's tourism industry. The controlling party is Martin Buese China Limited and TUI Europe's largest travel group and their Chinese partner is China Travel Service.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Country Studies. Federal Research Division.

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External linksEdit