Tourism: 'New engine' for economic growth
By Bao Jiannu
Never have the prospects looked so good for China's tourism industry than in 1998, when it was officially dubbed a "new engine" for the country's economic growth in the new century.
Under government plans, the industry is expected to furnish 8 percent of China's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2020, up from the current 4.2 percent.
"By then," said chairman He Guangwei of the China National Tourism Association (CNTA), "China will have become one of the world's most attractive tourist destinations with a highly developed tourism sector."
Just two decades ago in 1978, China ranked 41st in terms of inbound tourist arrivals.
But in that same landmark year, China adopted the state policy of reform, and opened to the outside world. For China's tourism industry, the year marked a beginning of a shift from an undertaking mainly serving official guests to a market-oriented business.
The market has boomed over the past two decades, growing at a speed much faster than the average for the world. So has the tourism industry. According to CNTA, the industry's watchdog, in 1998, the country handled nearly 1.59 times as many inbound tourist arrivals as in 1989, while the increase was 49 percent for the world during the same 10-year period.
In 1999, the country made 400.2 billion yuan (US$48.2 billion) in tourist revenue, an increase of 16.49 percent year-on-year.
"That was twice as much as the increase in the country's GDP, which was computed at 7.1 percent," the CNTA chairman noted.
As inbound tours keep growing along with internal tours, the tourism industry has been constantly growing in strength. The industry now employs 1.83 million full-time employees, and involves an extra nine million people indirectly.
Construction of tourist infrastructure facilities has boomed. The country had 200,000 tourist hotels at the end of 1998.
The figure included 5,782 verified as good enough to accommodate foreign tourists, which altogether had 764,800 rooms.
"In just 20 years, we have accomplished what some of the developed countries did in 50 years or even a century," the official said.
Internal tourism market
As living standards improve, outbound tourism has grown rapidly over the past decade. A total of two million Chinese citizens joined outbound tours to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea in 1999. More recently, Japan was officially opened to Chinese tour groups, and a few more countries are to open to Chinese tourists soon.
"Just two decades ago, people were able to leave the country only when they were sent abroad on public errands," He Guangwei noted.
But even more impressive is an internal tourism boom in recent years. In 1999, 790 million Chinese left their homes to tour other parts of the country, and their spending while away from home totaled 283.1 billion yuan ($34.1 billion).
The Chinese now receive 114 free days with full pay in a year, including the week-long Spring Festival, May Day and National Day holidays. Almost all tourist attractions across the country were jammed with tourists during this year's May Day break.
CNTA estimated that 46 million people were traveling and they spent 18.1 billion yuan ($2.18 billion) in those seven days.
The country is shifting the focus of its development endeavor on the western regions, hence a tourism boom is expected to take place there.
"The entire country is endowed with a huge tourism potential, not only the western regions," He Guangwei said.
With a population of more than 1.2 billion, China has the largest internal tourism market in the world. But only 30 percent of the internal tourism market has been developed.
Each internal tourist spends an average of 400 yuan ($48) and shopping takes only 20 percent of his or her travel expenditure, compared with 60 percent for developed countries in the world.