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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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A PDF download of this article is available at the following link

Chinese international outbound tourism shrinks in Q4 2018
Hamburg/Germany, 26th Feb 2018

The number of border crossings from Mainland China increased in the last quarter of 2018 by 7%, but this growth only benefitted the destinations of “Greater China”. The rest of the world welcomed for the first time in a last quarter of the year less Chinese visitors compared to the year before.

New quarterly statistics, published by COTRI ANALYTICS of the German-based China Outbound Tourism Research Institute on Feb. 26th, 2019, show that 56% or 22.5 million of the 40 million outbound trips from Mainland China in the last quarter of 2018 ended already in Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan. Only 44% or 17.5 million brought Chinese travellers to destinations further afield. In 2017 the ratio had still been 50:50 between Greater China trips and trips to the rest of the world, in the years before the balance used to be even in favour of longer travels. The last quarter includes the National Golden Week in October, one of the main travel seasons in China. Especially the Special Administrative Regions Hong Kong and Macau managed to add five million arrivals from China in the last quarter within the last two years, whereas the rest of the world lost one million arrivals in the same period.
China is the world’s biggest international tourism source market and for most destinations in East Asia and Oceania the No. 1 source market. For many countries in other parts of the world China represents the No. 1 Asian source market. Different destinations have been hit in different ways by the slump. Whereas many traditional destinations like Australia, Germany, or Thailand saw little growth or even decline, others enjoyed growing arrival numbers and increasing market shares, especially Nepal, South Korea and Cambodia in Asia and many smaller destinations like Serbia, Croatia and Spain in Europe as well as Canada in North America.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of COTRI: “Chinese are still travelling abroad in growing numbers, but the lower end of the market has become a little bit more cautious, choosing rather destinations close by, including Hong Kong and Macau, whereas the upper end of the market is looking for more authentic experiences in new destinations. Simplified visa regulations, increased numbers of direct air connections and the new road and rail links between Hong Kong, Macau and China support this new travel pattern. Long-distance destinations will have to increase their efforts to attract Chinese visitors.”

COTRI ANALYTICS provides detailed statistical information for the 80 most important destinations of Chinese outbound travellers. It publishes every quarter the COTRI ANALYTICS RADAR, showing which countries outside of Greater China had the biggest increases or declines in market segments according to age, gender, purpose of visit, form of travel etc. and in market share.

COTRI is since 15 years the leading independent research organisation in the field of Chinese outbound tourism with offices in Germany and in China.
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