COTRI is recognised by global media as one of the major sources for information about China’s outbound tourism. Articles written by COTRI’s director Prof. Arlt have been featured in newspapers like China Daily and trade magazines like Travel Weekly. COTRI is regularly quoted by CNN, BBC, Bloomberg, The Economist, Financial Times, International New York Times, South China Morning Post, etc., as well as by online and offline trade publications.

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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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Flight booking data gives insights into Chinese arrival downturns before they take place

Hamburg 19.09.2018. The capsizing of two tourist boats near Phuket, Thailand on July 5 this summer saw the deaths of close to 50 international visitors, all of which were Chinese nationals.

As has been the case with similar tragedies given high-profile coverage in Chinese media in the past, a downturn in Chinese visitor numbers can be anticipated in the wake of the event. While the effects of the tragedy on safety conscious Chinese outbound travellers may not be visible in arrivals data for a few months, flight booking patterns allows for a more immediate insight into forthcoming impacts on tourist numbers. With over two months having elapsed since the Thai boating disaster, yet without arrivals statistics for this period having yet been published, the case study represents a prime opportunity to examine ForwardKeys flight booking data for the intervening weeks.

In the first six months of 2018, Thailand enjoyed record success in the Chinese outbound tourism market. With over 5.9 million Chinese arrivals in the first half of the year (a year-on-year growth rate of 25.9%), the country comfortably ranked ahead of regional rivals Japan (4.1m; +23.6% YoY), Vietnam (2.6m; +36.1% YoY) and South Korea (2.2m; -3.7% YoY) as the most popular destination for Chinese outbound tourists beyond the Greater China region.

This positive growth trend was accordingly reflected in flight bookings made in the period leading up to the event, with purchases being 8.4% higher between April 1 and July 5, 2018 than they had been the year before.

However, for the period starting the day following the accident (July 6) until September 4, ForwardKeys reports that there was a marked 52.3% decrease in purchases of flights from China to Thailand, while booking data also shows that travel to the country to be made during the coming Golden Week holidays between September 18 and October 8 will be down 27% year-on-year among Chinese customers. With bookings clearly taking a negative turn among the Chinese outbound market, a coming reversal of recent arrivals growth from China can be anticipated in the third quarter of 2018.

As bookings to Thailand among Chinese outbound travellers have declined, ForwardKeys data has shown concurrent increases in the purchase of flights to other regional destinations among Chinese consumers; in the two months following July 6, small increases have been seen in the purchase of Chinese trips to the Philippines and Singapore, marked growth in those to Vietnam and Cambodia and a 39.4% year-on-year increase in flight bookings to Malaysia.

Malaysia’s current success in attracting Chinese visitors, however, offers a cause for optimism for the Thai market amid its anticipated struggles: following the country’s downturn in tourist arrivals from China following 2014’s two Malaysia Airlines disasters, by late 2015 and early 2016 Malaysia was once again posting record numbers of Chinese visitor numbers. As of H1 2018, the country has replaced Taiwan as the eighth most-popular destination among Chinese outbound travellers. In spite of perceptions of danger for certain destinations, tourists’ memories can prove to be short.

Further in-depth Chinese outbound data built upon COTRI analysis and ForwardKeys’ flight data will be available in the forthcoming edition of the forthcoming Expert Session, which will be broadcast online on Wednesday 26th September in sessions appropriate for different timezones worldwide. For registration details and further information, please see the following link.

For media enquiries or other content related to the COTRI & ForwardKeys Expert Session, please contact Christopher Ledsham at

To download this COTRI press release, please click here.

To download the COTRI logo, please click here (Print version and Web version) or to download a picture of  COTRI’s director Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, please click here.



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