Inbound tourism faces “huge difficulties” partly caused by geopolitical tensions and anti-China sentiment, according to an industry body.
Xiao Qianhui, chairman of the China Smart Tourism Association, said the exodus of foreigners during the Covid-19 pandemic had also had an impact.
He said promoting international travel would be a way to improve understanding of China.
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Xiao made the remarks at a seminar in Wuxi, Jiangsu province on May 9 organised by the China Tourism Association and made public in a statement released last week.
“Inbound tourism is facing huge difficulties right now and we usually think that it’s due to the pandemic,” said Xiao, who was previously an official with the former China National Tourism Administration.
“That’s fair and true, as it pressed the stop button [on travel] shockingly. But the problem has not been fully caused by the pandemic.”
He pointed to the industry’s lack of new entrants, and said its “consumer structure” was seeing drastic changes because of geopolitical tensions.
“The impact of anti-China policies adopted by Western countries and led by the US has had a profound and long-term impact on the entire inbound travel sector,” Xiao said, adding that many countries had seen increasing negative public opinion towards China in the past two decades.
But reviving international travel could help “contain the increasingly anti-China majority Western public opinion”, according to Xiao.
He said there had been a shift in the origin of tourists towards lower spending countries such as Russia and Myanmar. “The proportion of travellers from Europe, the United States, Japan and South Korea is declining substantially.”
Another “serious issue” was the large number of foreigners who left China during the pandemic. Xiao said having friends or family living in China was often a reason that foreigners visited the country.
China reopened its borders to foreign tourists in March after three years of pandemic restrictions, but the recovery of international travel has been slower than for domestic tourism.
Most tour groups visiting mainland China were from Hong Kong and Macau from January to March, accounting for almost 80 per cent of the total, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Borders between the mainland and the two cities reopened in February.
Figures from the second quarter are yet to be released.
Xiao told the seminar that reinvigorating inbound travel was crucial to help address misconceptions about China.
He said there was an “urgent need” to include inbound tourism in the national strategy, and that central policies were needed to make it easier for foreigners to visit China, including making the visa process less complicated.