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China Tourism — Current Trends and Facts

Tourism in China is booming. There has lately been a big surge in domestic Mainland travel, and a big increase in foreign tourists is expected for the next decade. Here are some interesting statistics about tourism in China and trends, and more about the comparative merits of our tours and travel company.

Foreign Tourism Holding Steady, But Expected To Boom

Foreign Tourists to China

guilinGuilin's scenery has long been a major foreign tourist attraction

China is a very popular country for foreign tourists. People are fascinated with the different culture and way of life, the natural highlights, ancient cities, and fast modernization. As intra-Asia travel has been booming recently, there has been a change in where tourists arrive from, their favorite destinations, and what tourists like to do.

In total, 56 million "foreign" visitors came to China in 2014, and total inbound tourism numbers have held basically steady from 2007 to 2014. The biggest portion of those "foreign" visitors by far are ethnic Chinese people from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. This makes sense, since travel is easy for them, and many come for work, business, education, or family reasons as well.

Tourists from non-Chinese countries and regions numbered about 26 million in 2013 and 2014. These numbers too have held steady from 2007, when about 26 million non-Chinese visitors came.

Overall, China ranks about third in the world as a popular tourist destination country after France and the US. But if Hong Kong and Macau are included, then China is probably the world's number one tourist destination.

Most Foreign Tourists Are Asian

Tourists arriving are becoming increasingly Asian in percentage terms. Asians have now have more money to spend for travel and sightseeing. The largest number of non-Chinese foreign tourists are South Koreans. About four million Koreans came. They were followed in numbers by Japanese, Russians, Americans, Vietnamese, Malaysians, and Mongolians. About 20 percent of foreign tourists are European (about half are Russians). It makes sense that the countries closest to China contribute the most tourists.

Decrease in American Tourists

Americans are the fourth biggest nationality of foreign China tourists. China is popular with Americans, but numbers coming have been decreasing slightly since a high in 2012 when 2,100,000 Americans came. The economic crisis, fall of the value of the dollar compared to the yuan, news about pollution, an ageing American population, and other factors have led to a decrease in the number of American tourists. About 2,090,000 Americans came in 2014. Americans made up about 11 percent of the Chinese foreign tourism market in 2014.

Chinese Domestic Tourism is Booming

The biggest segment of the Chinese tourism market is Mainland Chinese domestic tourism. For the first time, hundreds of millions of Chinese have a surplus of spending money, and time for travel, and a good transportation system. And they are using it! Chinese domestic tourism has been increasing about 10% per year, and it is estimated that this contributes 4% of China's GDP of 9 trillion dollars or 360 billion dollars. This is about three times more than Chinese tourists spend overseas.

The Most Popular Destinations

Chinahighlights membersThe Badaling Great Wall is full of tourists, especially on weekends and during public holidays

The most popular destinations in China are Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. 

Beijing is the most popular destination because it is the capital and has amazing ancient architecture. In Beijing, the most popular attractions are the Great Wall, the former imperial palace called the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven.

Shenzhen is popular simply because it is the border city for people coming in from Hong Kong. People doing business in Guangzhou have to come through Shenzhen. The Shenzhen border is a popular tourist entry point. Also, some people go to Hong Kong through Shenzhen's airport. See Shenzhen to Hong Kong transportation>>

The second and third most popular places in China are Victoria Peak and Tsim Sha Tsui, both in Hong Kong with about ten million tourists annually. Tourists go to Victoria Peak to see the scenery, and they go to Tsim Sha Tsui mainly for shopping and urban sightseeing. See sightseeing and shopping on the Magnificent Mile of Nathan Road.

Our list of China's Top 10 Attractions covers a broad range of China destinations.

Inland Tourism is Increasing

As China's inland and western provinces develop, the government is spurring foreign and domestic tourism in those areas. New hotels and resorts are being built inland. The Changsha and Zhangjiajie region is an example of a region that is popular with Chinese tourists, and that will probably be attracting more foreign tourists as well in the coming decade.

There are numerous other inland areas that will attract more foreign tourists. So far, most foreign tourists have concentrated in the coastal cities and a few inland areas such as Guilin, Chengdu, Yunnan, and Xi'an.

What Tourists Like to Do

The Temple of HeavenThe Temple of Heaven is a popular ancient sight in Beijing

The most popular thing that tourists like to do is see the sights such as the ancient places in Beijing and Xi'an, or great natural scenery such as at Guilin, the Yangtze River, or Wulingyuan. See The Most Popular Foreign Tourist Activities in China.

The second most popular thing to do is probably business and meetings, and the third most popular reason for coming is probably shopping.

As China continues to build mega architecture and engineering constructions, seeing places such as the Shanghai Tower might become more popular too. See China's Seven Modern Engineering Wonders>>

Tourism Peak Times

High travel times: The domestic tourist volume rockets to amazing numbers during the peak seasons, especially during the two "golden weeks" of vacation of the Spring Festival when transportation is frenetic and the National Day Holiday from Oct. 1 to 7. Another high travel week is from the end of April until about May 5 for the Chinese May 1 national holiday.

It would be better for your convenience and for lower prices to visit at other times. However, if you want to watch the celebrations, we can help arrange the most convenient itinerary if you contact us well ahead of time. See high travel dates>>

Avoid weekends: If possible, it is best to avoid touring on weekends at popular locations as well. See our suggestions about the best times to visit China>>

Tourist Traps

No Tourist TrapsNo tourist traps for our customers!

Noisy Chinese tour groups: Most foreigners would not enjoy a tour conducted by Chinese for Chinese. The culture and expectations of Chinese and foreigners differ. Most foreigners don't want to follow a noisy tourist guide with a bullhorn or loud speaker. This is the norm for Chinese tourists, and what they are used to. Chinese tour groups will typically also go to many tourist trap shops and restaurants and tourist trap sites. We steer clear of these.

See what other trip wreckers to avoid>>

The China Highlights' Difference

There is strong competition in the travel and tourism business in China. There are many reputable and ethical agencies, and there are others. 

Beware "bargains": It's worth remembering that if an operator is offering a trip which seems amazingly cheap, then the difference will be collected some other way. Sometimes guides and drivers will pay the agency for the right to guide the visitor ("buying travelers"), and they will then find ways to recover this from the visitors. Sometimes the agency will use non-accredited suppliers, for example for river boats, rather than those which meet the government standard. This is not our way...

Signs of a Good Travel Agency

Chinahighlights membersChina Highlights is a trustworthy agency.

A good agency such as China Highlights (CHT) does not collect the 'per head' fee. We pay our guides a fixed monthly salary, recognizing that they are English graduates as well as expert guides. These days guides expect a good salary because more and more foreign businesses are opening in China, offering an attractive alternative, and a guide with a good standard of English does not have to 'buy' customers from an agency.

A good agency does not permit its guides to take their clients on endless shopping excursions to factory shops. This kind of forced tourist shopping is a downside of many agencies. We are the first China tour company to make our itineraries ABSOLUTELY SHOPPING FREE.

A good agency believes in delivering value for money, reliability, and clarity about what people will get for their money. It will charge a reasonable price, and pay its own staff and suppliers at a reasonable rate.

China Highlights is respected and long established (since 1998), and we have teams serving people of various language groups. We know how to offer you low prices, and we strive for honesty in our dealings with customers. We even have a money back guarantee. See more about why you should choose us.

Tipping Guides?

This, of course, raises the thorny issue of tipping. China has not previously had a "tipping culture." However, the practice of tipping guides and drivers has become common practice. Even though China Highlights pays guides and drivers a fair salary, they still expect a tip if they provide good service. We provide a guide to the level of tipping, but in the end it is the decision of the traveler. Tipping in China>>

Recommended China Tour Packages

China Highlights is long established and respected on-line tour operator and one of the biggest in China. We get good reviews from our clients. Our way of touring stands out as special.

Eight Day Golden Triangle Tour: This is our most popular tour visiting Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai.

See our other tour packages>>