The Staggering Numbers Behind China’s Travel Industry

China is big and populated. OK that’s not exactly a scoop, neither is it a revelation to talk about how much the Chinese like to travel. But our editors are a smart bunch and they’ve been working on ways to express just how massive and growing and massively growing (do you think we emphasized this enough?) China’s travel industry is.

The Chinese take about 35 billion trips each year on the country’s regular train system (not their sexy high speed network) and in motor coaches. In case this didn’t impress you, go back and read that number again… 35 billion trips.  The incredible thing is the number of travelers in China could actually rise by 50% in the years ahead as more people join the middle class ranks and the travel industry increases capacity.

The McKinsey Global Institute foresees a threefold growth in the number of people in China able to afford airline travel in the next ten years as well. China’s current five-year plan shows 70 new airports under construction and feasibility studies for 28 more. McKinsey’s research indicates that the availability of air travel will grow all over China, but it will increase 20% faster in tier-three and four cities than in tier-one and two cities. This means travel will become less concentrated in the big coastal cities like Shanghai and Beijing and will be more spread out across the country. And of course this means China’s travel industry will keep growing.


But the big story is the size and impact of China’s outbound tourism industry.  With only about 4% of the Chinese population owning a passport, the country overtook the United States and Germany as the world’s leader in international travel in 2012. In 2013 more than 97 million Chinese traveled abroad spending $129 billion in their destination countries. China had 120 million outbound tourists in 2015  and while we haven’t seen definitive figures for 2016 yet, most industry watchers predict another record year. No wonder almost every tourism board is chasing the Chinese traveler and most countries have significantly relaxed the visa requirements for Chinese citizens.


So what does this all mean?  It means Boeing and Airbus are really lucky that China has emerged the way it has. It means New York which expects 1 million Chinese tourists this year is looking for a lot of Mandarin-speaking help, and it means that the places you visit will be more crowded and more focused on Chinese guests. It also means if you are planning a trip to China in the next couple of years that you can expect to be able to visit more far afield places easier.  In essence, this means the Chinese will power the travel industry for years to come and that’s a good thing.


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