Touching the Middle Kingdom
Travel can take you to the heart of the story
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