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China Tourism — Current Trends and Facts

Lele shows Lynne the 20 Yuan note picture for real, River Li, GuilinGuilin scenery on the 20 yuan bill caught on camera

Tourism in China is booming. Domestic Mainland travel is booming, and a big increase in foreign tourists is expected for the next decade.

Here are some interesting statistics and information about tourism in China and trends, and some comparative merits of our travel company and tours.

Foreign Tourism Holding Steady, But Expected To Boom

Foreign Tourists to China

China is a very popular country for foreign tourists. People are fascinated with the different culture, the natural highlights, ancient cities, and fast modernization. China ranks third as a tourist destination country after France and the US. But if Hong Kong and Macau are included, then China is the world's number one tourist destination.

98.8 million people traveled to China in 2015 for tourism, business, or work. 56 million foreign tourists came to China in 2014, and total inbound tourism numbers have held basically steady from 2007 to 2014.

Most Foreign Travellers Are Asian

Chinese people are the tourist majority: Most "foreign" visitors come from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. 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. This number too has held steady from 2007. Asian tourists are increasing in percentage terms because intra-Asia travel has been booming recently with increased Asian disposable income.

The largest non-Chinese tourist nationality are South Koreans (about 4 million/year), followed in numbers by Japanese, Russians, Americans, Vietnamese, Malaysians, and Mongolians; mostly countries closest to China. About 20% of foreign tourists are European (half Russians).

Decrease in American Tourists

Americans are the fourth biggest nationality of foreign China tourists. Americans made up about 11 percent of the Chinese foreign tourism market in 2014. In 2012, 2.1 million Americans came. The economic crisis, devaluation of the dollar, news about pollution, an aging population, and other factors have led a slight decrease recently.

Chinese Domestic Tourism is Booming

The biggest segment of the Chinese tourism market is Mainland domestic tourism. Increasingly, Chinese have a surplus of spending money, 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.

The Most Popular Destinations

Chinahighlights membersThe Badaling Great Wall near Beijing is full of tourists on weekends and during public holidays

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

Hong Kong: The "gateway to China" has the second and third most popular tourist highlights in China: Victoria Peak and Tsim Sha Tsui. 60 million visitors arrive annually.

Shenzhen is popular simply because it is the border city for people coming in from Hong Kong. See Shenzhen to Hong Kong transportation>>

Shanghai: The largest city in China has become iconic for modern China. It is known for the super tall buildings such as Shanghai Tower, modern business districts, and shopping.

Xi'an: The Terracotta Army museum helped make the city famous for tourism about 30 years ago, as the capital of several large and wealthy ancient empires.

Inland Tourism Is Increasing

So far, most foreign tourists have concentrated in the coastal cities and a few inland areas such as Guilin, Chengdu, Yunnan, and Xi'an. As China's inland and western provinces develop, foreign and domestic tourism there is increasing. Places like Zhangjiajie are attracting more foreign tourists.

What China Tourists Do

the Temple of HeavenThe Temple of Heaven is one of tourists' favorite places in Beijing

Tourists flock to ancient cities, such as Beijing and Xi'an, or the great natural scenery, such as at Guilin, the Yangtze River, or Zhangjiajie. See The Most Popular Foreign Tourist Activities in China.

Business and meetings, and shopping draw tourists too as does new mega architecture and engineering constructions. See China's Seven Modern Engineering Wonders>>

Tourism Peak Times

The peak weeks are Spring Festival when transportation is frenetic, the National Day Holiday (October 1 to 7), and around the May 1 national holiday. Avoid these holidays for more convenience and better prices. See high travel dates>>

Avoid weekends, too, if possible. See our suggestions about the best times to visit China>>

Tourist Traps

No Tourist TrapsNo tourist traps for our customers!

There are many inferior experiences offered to tourists.

For example, most foreigners would not enjoy a tour conducted by Chinese for Chinese, as expectations differ. Following a noisy tour group and a guide carrying a bullhorn or loud speaker is the norm for Chinese tourists, as are tourist trap shops and restaurants. We steer clear of these.

See what other trip wreckers to avoid>>

The China Highlights' Difference

There are many reputable and ethical agencies, but there are others to avoid.

Beware the "bargains:" It's worth remembering that if an operator is offering a trip which seems amazingly cheap, then the difference will be collected another way.

Some guides and drivers pay their agency for the right to guide a visitor ("buying travelers"), and they will then find ways to get your money. They might 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.

We pay guides a fixed competitive salary, so they don't have to make a living by commissions, etc. Our guides expect a tip if they provide good service. But tipping is your decision. See Tipping in China>>

Value, reliability, and clarity: You'll get good service at a reasonable price with us.

Solid reputation: Respected and long established (since 1998), we have teams serving people of various language groups. We offer you low prices and a money back guarantee, and we strive for integrity and quality.

Recommended China Tours

take a photo on the great wallGreat Wall walking tour

If you are interested in planning a China tour, please see our popular tours below for inspiration:

Or you can just tell us your interests and requirements, and we will help you create your China trip.

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