Touch­ing the Mid­dle King­dom

Travel can take you to the heart of the story

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT -

Much has been made re­cently about the ris­ing tide of out­bound travel from China to the rest of the world – in other words, Chi­nese cit­i­zens trav­el­ing from their homes to in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tions. The lat­est fig­ures from the Chi­nese Out­bound Tourism Re­search In­sti­tute show that be­tween April 2013 and March 2014, 102 mil­lion Chi­nese crossed their borders bound for for­eign lands near and far. And that num­ber is ex­pected to dou­ble again by 2020.

With­out ques­tion, the gains have been dra­matic, in part be­cause it’s all hap­pened so quickly. In 2005, Chi­nese trav­el­ers rep­re­sented about 1 per­cent of the to­tal in­ter­na­tional travel mar­ket; by the end of this year, China is set to over­take the US as the largest out­bound travel mar­ket in the world, and by 2023, is pro­jected to top 20 per­cent of all for­eign trips world­wide, for both busi­ness and leisure.

Dur­ing my con­ver­sa­tion with Jim Holt­houser, Hil­ton World­wide’s EVP Global Brands ( One on One, page 8), he noted, “I don’t think it’s dawned on people in the West yet, just how pro­lific the growth rate of out­bound busi­ness from China to all parts of the world is be­com­ing.” He points out that the in­flux of new de­mand for travel ser­vices prom­ises to be a boon for the global travel in­dus­try and the world’s economies.

Much of this in­crease comes from the twin cat­a­lysts of China’s ris­ing eco­nomic sta­tus and the re­lax­ation of bar­ri­ers to travel, which are giv­ing mid­dle class Chi­nese both the means and the op­por­tu­nity to get out more.

But travel is a two-way street. And while growth in Chi­nese out­bound is cer­tainly the head­line, the corol­lary is the in­bound story. Ac­cord­ing to the Pa­cific Asia Travel As­so­ci­a­tion’s An­nual Tourism Mon­i­tor 2014, China wel­comed al­most 130 mil­lion for­eign vis­i­tors last year. That’s 25 per­cent of all in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tor ar­rivals to all Asia Pa­cific des­ti­na­tions.

Be­tween 2009 and 2013, PATA re­ports the growth in in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals into the Asia Pa­cific re­gion rose by an aver­age of 6.3 per­cent a year, mod­er­at­ing in 2013 to 5.3 per­cent.

The point in go­ing through all these num­bers is that this spring I was one of the 130 mil­lion, and glad for the ex­pe­ri­ence. And I can only rec­om­mend that, if you’ve got the chance to go, go. Watch­ing the tire­less as­cent of new sky­scrapers in Pudong, jostling through the crowds in Tianan­men Square, see­ing the breath­tak­ing sweep of the Dragon Ter­mi­nal at Bei­jing Cap­i­tal Air­port – and re­al­iz­ing that an even more mas­sive project is al­ready in the works; all these ex­pe­ri­ences and lots of oth­ers are shap­ing and re­shap­ing my per­cep­tions of China and its people.

In­bound or out­bound, travel puts things in con­text. This month’s cover story ( Shang­hai To­mor­row, page 30) dives deep into the fu­ture of this sto­ried city that is one of China’s crit­i­cal links to the world econ­omy. There are ex­cit­ing projects, new ini­tia­tives and sur­pris­ing dis­cov­er­ies un­fold­ing in Shang­hai – as in­deed they are all over the coun­try. And hav­ing just re­turned from there, I can look at all these de­vel­op­ments with fresh in­sight and ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

But there’s also a his­tory that goes be­yond the mu­se­ums and tours and vis­its to the hu­tongs – those nar­row al­leys where so much of this an­cient cul­ture formed. It’s a spirit of the past and the present that can only be con­veyed when you’re im­mersed in it.

China is go­ing to be the story for a long time to come. And to re­ally get what’s hap­pen­ing there, you have to get there. Bet­ter hurry, though.

There are 130 mil­lion people in line with you.

— Dan Booth Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor

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