Fall is mainly due to the renminbi appreciation, poor air quality in major cities and strict visa regulations.
CHINA saw a drop in inbound tourist arrivals last year amid the renminbi’s appreciation and poor air quality in the country’s major cities.
Statistics from the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) show that inbound visitor arrivals fell 2.5% to 129 million.
Dr Li Chuangxin from the International Tourism Development Institute at China Tourism Academy (CTA) said the decline was partly due to the strengthening yuan, which increased travelling expenses in China.
Air pollution also played a part in deterring tourists.
“People want a leisure holiday and not to inhale PM2.5 airborne particles that penetrate deep into the lungs when travelling,” he said.
Other countries in the region, when launching efforts to boost their tourism, also deprived China of inbound tourists.
An example would be Japan’s visa waiver programme.
China, meanwhile, has a strict visa rule in place.
“At the moment, only nationals of a few countries are allowed to enter China without visas. The rest have to spend time, money and energy applying for visas, which is one of the factors that discourages them from coming,” he said.
Since last year, some Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing have adopted a visa-free transit policy that allows transit passengers from 51 countries to stay up to 72 hours without a visa.
The policy did not bring about a surge in tourist arrivals as expected by the government, Dr Li said.
He added that travel agencies were utilising their resources on outbound and domestic tourism since these two markets are booming.
Xinhua reported that Chinese made 98.2 million trips overseas in 2013, a year-on-year surge of 18%.
Domestic trips saw an increase of 10.3% to 3.26 billion.
“After comparing the profitability of these three markets, the travel agencies are less enthusiastic in focusing on inbound travels. As of now, we can only rely on the government to offer incentives to draw inbound tourists,” Dr Li said.
Nevertheless, he said that the drop in inbound tourists was a normal phenomenon in any mature tourist market, although it has cast a spotlight on several shortcomings in this segment of the industry.
Meanwhile, CNTA vice-director Wu Wenxue attributed the dip to the economic downturn in Western countries in a news report on China.org.cn.
“This may explain why China saw less foreign travellers despite introducing the transit visa policies last year,” the report said.
The Tourism Law, which came into effect on Oct 1 last year, was also said to be a contributing factor. Tour packages are priced higher with compulsory shopping stops removed.
Wu added that CNTA would introduce favourable policies to countries which provide the majority of inbound tourists, including South Korea, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and South-east Asian countries, although no details were offered.
He was confident that inbound tourism would recover in 2014.
In Beijing, inbound tourist arrivals were down 12.9% year-on-year to 3.3 million in the first three quarters of 2013, according to the statistics published by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development.
Adlyn Adam-Teoh, whose company Hias Gourmet provides private food tours in Beijing, had felt the decline.
“Our business has dropped about 30% to 40% since 2012. In the past we could get 10 bookings a week, but now we’re lucky if we have five,” she said.
Apart from the Chinese yuan appreciation and pollution, Adlyn believes tourists from Europe and the United States now prefer other cheaper and more attractive destinations, such as Myanmar, Vietnam and Greece.
Jerry Mao, a freelance tour guide who accepts job offers from Adlyn and two hotels, also noticed a drop in visitors.
He used to be engaged to lead private tours seven or eight days a month during low season, but now he only works two or three days a month.
During the peak season from April to October, his working days also declined from 20 days to around 15 days a month.
“My income has dropped by 40%,” said the 34-year-old, who has been working as a tour guide since 2002.
Mao added that more and more of the foreigners who took private tours were not in Beijing solely for sightseeing.
“They sign up for the tours as a side activity to their business trip. Some are here for weddings while some stop by at Beijing when visiting other places in the region, such as Hong Kong.
“The tours used to be a four-day, three nights package but now most of the customers want to cover the tourist attractions in just one or two days,” he said.
Many of Mao’s colleagues have switched to outbound tours.
Mao has not made up his mind what to do next. He might follow the footsteps of his colleagues or leave the industry altogether. But for now, his immediate plan is to approach more resorts in the hope of getting more job offers.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.