In only three decades, the Chinese have gone from easily stereotyped, rube, new tourists to conquerors of the industry. After hundreds of millions of visits and billions of dollars showered around the world, Chinese tourists now hail from the middle, rich and the very rich classes. Fewer travel in groups. Some still enrage destinations with their thoughtlessness. Others are welcomed for their enthusiasm and unique points of view. Above all, the Chinese are changing tourism around the world.
The travel numbers are astonishing. For the fourth year in a row, the Chinese are the world’s biggest group of international travellers, taking 142 million international trips in 2017. In the next decade, that number is projected to jump to 390 million, according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.
And Chinese tourists are the biggest international spenders: $258 billion last year. All this has been accomplished at a time when only 7% of Chinese citizens hold passports. On the inbound side of the equation, China is expected to become the No. 1 travel destination sometime in the next five years, knocking out France and solidifying its dominance over tourism.
Chinese tourists can lift economies seemingly overnight. Chinese visitors to Europe improved the Continent’s trade balance by $4 billion.
Wealthy Chinese shoppers among the haute couture shops of Avenue Montaigne in Paris are a common sight. There is so much money involved in Chinese tourism that Anna Wong of the U.S. Federal Reserve recently warned that what looks like tourist spending overseas might actually be money laundering to conceal asset investments from the Chinese government.
It’s hard to wrap one’s arms around this ever-growing Chinese tourism juggernaut, but its emergence is clearly the most important milestone for the industry since globalization kicked off the modern explosion.