More support for tourism will make China an even better destination

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 November, 2015, 10:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 November, 2015, 3:09pm

As more mainlanders travel overseas, fewer foreigners visited China in the three years to last year. The number of inbound tourists fell 2.2 per cent in 2012 to 132 million; and shrank a further 2.5 per cent and 0.45 per cent in 2013 and last year respectively, according to the National Tourism Administration. The lacklustre performance may reflect various factors, from concerns about worsening pollution to exchange rates to competition from other destinations. Politics can also play a part, as shown by a fall in arrivals from Japan in times of strained Sino-Japanese relations.

However, while spectacular scenery and monuments can draw tourists from all over, they won’t return if they leave with bad memories. In that regard infrastructure on the mainland still has much room for improvement, as do basic comforts like food and toilet hygiene. Adding to the problem is limited English proficiency among mainland Chinese.

Only recently did the Chinese authorities move to strengthen support for tourism. Tax refunds and more convenient visa procedures are welcome steps. Better regulations and complaints channels will also help . According to the latest travel competitiveness index from the World Economic Forum, China ranked 17th of 141 economies, trailing Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Air and ground infrastructure remain areas of concern. In an increasingly competitive environment, the tourist dollar goes to those who can provide better service and experience.

According to global travel bodies, international tourist arrivals rose 51 million to a record 1.14 billion last year. The tourism industry now accounts for one in 11 jobs on the planet. Tourism on the mainland is also an important economic pillar, providing some 64.4 million, or 8.4 per cent of jobs. The economic benefit of tourism was expected to top 5.817 trillion yuan in 2014, or 9.4 per cent of GDP. Given the importance of the industry, it is in the country’s interest to make further improvements.