Editorial: Seeking truth from facts

The development of China’s outbound tourism in three graphs

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

Dear readers,

Seek truth from facts (实事求是) is a four-characters Chengyu with a history of at least 2,000 years. It was the slogan of Chairman Mao’s university in the 1930s and became widely known when adopted in the 1980s by Deng Xiaoping, whose 115th birthday a few weeks ago was almost overlooked by the Chinese public except for an exhibition lasting three days in his hometown in Sichuan. In the same winter of 1978/79, when the Reform and Opening policy was introduced by Deng, he also delivered a series of speeches to address the economic importance of tourism for China, which represented the starting point for first inbound, then domestic and finally outbound tourism.

In three simple graphs, based on UNWTO and COTRI ANALYTICS data, the facts of Chinese outbound tourism can be compared with those of other major outbound source markets. It took until the year 2000, before the number of outbound trips from China reached the 10,000,000 mark for the first time, so this is a meaningful starting point.

The first graph points out the slow growth of outbound travel from the USA, Germany, the UK and France, all below 50% increase in almost two decades, whereas China shoots up especially in the current decade to unprecedented heights.

The second graph compares the total travel expenditure. The data before 2014 for China are most likely underreported, nevertheless the singular level of money spent by Chinese travellers on international travel stands clearly out.

Most interesting however is the third graph, presenting the spending per trip in comparison. With the start of mass tourism at the beginning of the millennium Chinese spending per trip declined and until the end of the decade stayed below the amounts of the other four countries – evidence for the dominance of trips to Hong Kong done with little expenses. Only in the last few years China moved onto the top of the list – with the caveat again than the numbers for the years before are probably too low – without a further growth however.

Seek truth from facts in three simple graphs. And if the truth looks less awesome than expected, here is a positive forecast for 2019: With the arrivals to Hong Kong very likely to drop much further than the minus 5.5% YoY in July for the rest of the year, total growth of outbound tourism will slow down but the proportion of long-distance travel will go up, with the result that the 2019 spending per trip very likely will increase.

As always, a peaceful and profitable week to all our readers,

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the COTRI WEEKLY team