Chinese tourists made more than 120 million visits abroad in 2015, spending more than USD100 billion

As China welcomes in the Year of the Monkey, many Chinese are expected to use the extended holiday to travel abroad.

Tourism contributed 10 per cent to global GDP and accounted for USD1.5 trillion in global exports in 2014 – and China’s share of this important industry has grown significantly over the past 10 years. So it’s little wonder that countries around the world are courting visitors from the world’s second largest economy.

Collectively, tourists from China now spend more than any other nation, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Preliminary figures from the China National Tourism Administration indicate spending by Chinese outbound tourists rose 17 per cent to USD104.5 billion in 2015. The number of visits rose too, with Chinese travellers making 120 million trips abroad in 2015, up 12 per cent on the year before.

They are exploring new overseas destinations, encouraged by cheaper flights, favourable exchange rates and plentiful shopping opportunities

Chinese travel trends are changing as tourist numbers increase. The country’s affluent middle classes are increasingly looking for cultural adventures beyond travel within mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. They are exploring new overseas destinations, encouraged by cheaper flights, favourable exchange rates and plentiful shopping opportunities.

As competition grows at home, countries worldwide are also actively competing for the custom of Chinese tourists, who are significant buyers of goods and services and regularly spend money on clothing, cosmetics, electronics, visiting attractions and eating out when they travel overseas. Chinese tourists are big buyers of luxury goods. According to HSBC economists, tourists represent about 45 per cent of global luxury goods sales each year, with Chinese visitors accounting for about 60 per cent of that figure.

South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have particularly benefited from an increase in travellers from China. Countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, notably Thailand, have also seen a rise in Chinese tourists.

The easing of visa rules has contributed to a rise in visitors from China to places such as Japan over the past few years, according to HSBC economists. In 2010 Japan lowered the minimum income requirement on tourist visas for Chinese visitors and at the start of 2015 it relaxed the requirements on a range of multi-entry visas.

More favourable exchange rates and flexible visa requirements may help lift tourist numbers to countries outside Asia, too. China overtook Germany as the biggest source of tourism to Russia in 2014, according to Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism, for example.

Countries such as Canada, the US, the UK, Spain and France have also been looking to attract more Chinese visitors by simplifying their visa application processes.

In Canada, which has long standing cultural ties with China, Chinese travellers can apply for 10-year, repeat-entry visas. The two countries are also working together to help add more direct flights from China to Canada.

Despite their willingness to travel further afield, Hong Kong and Macau still remain favoured destinations for mainland Chinese tourists.

The Lunar New Year will provide a short-term boost to travel in China. And with HSBC forecasts predicting that visits overseas by Chinese tourists could exceed 240 million within a decade, China looks set to remain a major influence on the global tourism industry.