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The merging of the China National Tourism Administration and the Ministry of Culture speaks volumes about Beijing’s view towards the role of outbound travel

Last week, the world of Chinese outbound tourism changed. Not only was Xi Jinping reappointed as president of China by all 2,970 members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), with no more limit on the number of terms he can serve, a major change also took place for tourism. On the 13th of March State Councillor Wang Yong announced that within the institutional restructuring plan of the State Council the Ministry of Culture and CNTA China National Tourism Administration are to be merged into a new Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The move, according to the official announcement, “… is aimed at coordinating the development of cultural and tourism industries, enhancing the country’s soft power and cultural influence, and promoting cultural exchanges internationally”.

There had been rumours for many years that the CNTA would either be upgraded to full ministry status or that it would be swallowed up by the Ministry of Culture. It seems that, assuming that the State Council plan will not encounter any opposition in the NPC, the Ministry of Culture now has won this battle.

For outbound tourism it is very interesting that “enhancing [China’s] soft power and cultural influence and promoting cultures exchanges internationally” are the main arguments, pointing clearly towards outbound tourism as opposite to domestic or inbound tourism. It also spells out in remarkably clear words what China’s outbound tourism is all about from the government’s point of view: Soft power and increased influence. Good news therefore about this confirmation of the ongoing support of the Chinese government for outbound tourism despite the hundreds of billions of USD deficit when considering the spending by Chinese travellers abroad compared to the spending of international visitors to China and the anti-hedonism campaign still going on in many other fields.

The history of the CNTA dates back to 1964, when it was established within CITS China International Travel Service. At this stage, government function and enterprise management was combined; CNTA and CITS had different names but shared the same staff. In 1982, as part of the policy of separation of enterprise from administration, CITS became specialised in all travel-related service, while CNTA concentrated on national tourism management. Still, CNTA still has been until now commercially active, for instance as the organiser of CITM China International Travel Market, the main Chinese tourism fair.

What will happen to Dr. Li Jinzao – the CNTA chairman who has worked tirelessly to put Chinese tourism as a topic onto the national and international agenda – remains to be seen. He might fully concentrate in the future on his role within the recently-established WTA World Tourism Alliance, of which he is the official “founder” according to the WTA website.

Certainly, with Xi Jinping moving closer to being the new “emperor” of China, and tourism finally given ministerial status, the fundamentals of China’s outbound tourism have changed more than ever since the introduction of the ADS Approved Destination Status system in 1995 and the 1997 proclamation of the “Provisional measures concerning the administration of outbound travel of Chinese citizens at their own expense”, which for the first time officially recognised the existence of the wish of Chinese citizens to travel internationally for leisure purposes.

As COTRI has been saying for years: China’s outbound tourism – You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt

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First European tourism authority implements a Recovery and Resilience programme for a more sustainable Chinese outbound tourism market

ADVANTAGE: TOURISM program to show how to prepare for post-pandemic Chinese visitors

Hamburg, 10.2.2021. Turespaňa, the promotion agency of the Spanish national tourism ministry, is preparing for destinations in Spain to welcome the new wave of Chinese visitors after the end of the pandemic.

The majority of Chinese outbound travellers are eager to start going abroad again as soon as it appears to be safe and borders are reopened. Their demands and expectations however have changed during the pandemic. They are more open to visit new destinations and more interested in nature and smaller cities than before, as well as in travelling in small groups of family members or friends.

ADVANTAGE: TOURISM is the name of the program Turespaňa is using. It has been developed by the experts of the COTRI China Outbound Tourism Research Institute and a number of partner organisations. The sustainable approach for the Chinese market is based on trainings for the knowledge transfer about the specific interests of different market segments and accordingly the development of bespoke offers. Higher quality leads to higher satisfaction, resulting in recommendations of the visitors to their peers back home. In this way money saved on marketing can be used for the education and empowerment of the Spanish tourism service providers and can attract affluent Chinese visitors to other parts of the country outside of the traditional main season.

Spain attracted almost 700,000 Chinese in 2019, but most of them visited only Barcelona and Madrid, adding to the problem of overtourism, while ignoring the many other attractive regions and cities. The new curiosity of many Chinese to get closer to the local nature and culture, including gastronomy, is supported with the tools of ADVANTAGE: TOURISM to benefit the Spanish tourism industry and to develop a successful long-term engagement with the Chinese market.

“Chinese travellers do not fly all the way to Europe to go to the beach and most of them do not even come for the sunshine. Provided with the right offers and interesting stories, they will not only add to the number of visitors to Spain but will bring benefits to new regions” says Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, CEO of COTRI.

Other national and regional tourism authorities are currently considering to join the ADVANTAGE: TOURISM program. Now is the right time to prepare for the future wave of Chinese outbound travellers, as many destinations will compete for them and the old way of travelling in big groups for sightseeing and shopping is getting out of fashion in China.

Learning the secrets of Sherry in Jerez or visiting the roots of the art of Flamenco in Sevilla, finding inner peace on the Camino de Santiago or sampling fine dining in San Sebastian, Spain has more than the crowded Ramblas in Barcelona and mediocre Chinese food in Madrid to offer.

More information about ADVANTAGE: TOURISM, please visit the official webpage for the program at

For interview requests, background materials for the Chinese outbound tourism market or other inquiries please contact COTRI +49 40 8450 8531,


COTRI China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, based in Hamburg and Beijing, is one of the leading research institutions for the Chinese outbound market and has been working for companies and governments around the word for more than 15 years, including training more than 2,000 tourism practitioners.

Contact:  Tel. 0049 (40) 84 50 85 31


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