Outbound tourism to see steady, slower rise
China's outbound tourism industry is expected to see slower but steady growth in the next five years.
Visits by Chinese outbound tourists are forecast to reach 150 million in 2020 from 117 million in 2015, with an estimated average annual growth rate of 5.09 percent, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
The administration released its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) on Monday. It said that domestic visits by Chinese tourists in 2020 would reach 6.4 billion; inbound visits would reach 150 million; and the total revenue of the tourism industry would soar to 7 trillion yuan ($1 trillion).
Peng Decheng, director of planning and finance for the tourism administration, said the tourism industry has exceeded all goals set for the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15). Foreign exchange income for tourism in 2015 reached $113.65 billion, nearly double the $58 billion goal.
China's outbound tourism has seen explosive growth since 1998, when the annual growth rate of outbound visits surpassed 40 percent.
From 2010 to 2012, it maintained growth of 18 to 22 percent. Since 2013, China has continued to make rapid strides in trips and overseas consumption, but with a slower growth rate.
Li Baiwen, a professor of tourism at Beijing Union University, said the outbound goal set by the administration is conservative. He expected the actual annual growth of outbound visits to be higher than just 5 percent.
Travel agencies also have positive expectations. Wang Xiaosong, CEO of Lvmama, an online travel agency, said the market for outbound tourism is still growing rapidly.
"The parent-kid overseas tour is in great demand right now. The booking of such tours in 2016 nearly doubled the number in 2015," said Wang. "The potential for outbound tourism is great. Less than 6 percent of Chinese have a passport, which means more than 94 percent of Chinese are potential outbound tourists."
But Li noted that the explosive growth of more than 40 percent seen in the outbound market right after 1998 is unlikely amid depreciation of the yuan, increased fears of terrorism and concerns about contagious illnesses, though those factors could contribute to China's inbound tourism.
"China's tourism industry is becoming more sophisticated. Social order is better than in certain European countries. The only issue is smog," Li said. "If China would reduce air pollution effectively, China would become a very mature and attractive overseas tourism destination."