China is using travel as an important tool to help strengthen its economy.
China also hopes to increase its influence on world events by sending more travelers overseas.
This hope was evident at the recent First World Conference on Tourism. There, a Chinese official spoke about the government's plan for using tourists and the money they spend.
The head of China’s National Tourism Administration, Li Jinzao, said the country is expecting some big numbers from tourism.
Li told the conference that China plans to send 150-million travelers along what he called the “One Belt, One Road." In the next five years, these tourists are expected to spend $200 billion, he said. This spending estimate is likely to raise expectations among countries along the ancient Silk Road, which links China to its neighbors.
Li predicted that total Chinese spending on tourism would increase up to three times from the present level of $460 billion by the year 2020. State media reported his comments.
Will Chinese Travel Help China's Economy?
Some observers say that travel will have a small impact on the Chinese economy. But there is no denying the government's excitement to enlarge the role of the tourism industry.
Linking Tourism and Foreign Policy
China has reasons to feel it can use tourism to influence foreign policy. Governments across the world are changing their immigration rules to welcome the growing numbers of Chinese tourists. Japan recently announced it would offer 10-year visas to Chinese businessmen and artists.
The desire to attract tourists has led Nepal and Sri Lanka to change their relationships with China, too.
Chinese citizens are now going to places where in the past Chinese rarely went. Their decisions are often based on political sensitivities or the desire to buy luxury goods.
Michel Gutsatz is a marketing expert. He says that among Chinese travelers, South Korea and Thailand are popular destinations. Outside of Asia, he said, Chinese are more likely to visit Europe than North America.
These changes, he said, are the result of young Chinese travelers, who spend more and travel independently.
Spending by Chinese tourists has lifted the economies of several Asian countries, including Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, according to a new report by HSBC, a bank.
HSBC expects the number of Chinese traveling overseas to reach 242-million by 2024. In a single year, that number would be equal to the total number of tourists received by Germany, Iran, Indonesia and Egypt combined.
Chinese tourists are responsible for more than 15 percent of all arrivals in Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Japan, the bank's report said.
China is now the biggest business travel market in the world.
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) recently announced that China has overtaken the United States in business travel. Chinese spent just over $291 billion on business travel last year. Americans spent just over $290 billion.
This year, GBTA predicts that the Chinese business travel market will grow over 10 percent, while the U.S. business travel market will grow less than 2 percent.