China Travel Statistics: From 2019 to Now

China Travel Statistics

Updated On: March 18, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Embarking on a journey through the captivating realm of China travel statistics unveils a narrative of resilience, growth, and enduring allure. From the bustling streets of Beijing to the tranquil waters of the Li River, China’s diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage have long captivated the hearts of travellers worldwide. As we navigate from the statistical landscape of 2019 to the projected trends of 2024, it becomes evident that China’s appeal transcends mere numbers.

Despite the challenges posed by global events, the nation’s tourism sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience, with domestic tourism leading the resurgence and international visitation poised for a promising rebound. Moreover, as we delve into the myriad reasons why China continues to entice adventurers from around the globe, from its iconic landmarks to its vibrant culinary scene and burgeoning business opportunities, one thing remains abundantly clear: China is a destination like no other, where every statistic tells a story of exploration, discovery, and boundless potential.

China Travel Statistics in 2019

China Travel Statistics - 124 Million Decrease

In 2019, China welcomed a record-breaking 145.31 million international tourists, marking a 2.9% increase over the previous year. This steady rise in inbound tourism arrivals reflects the enduring appeal of China’s cultural heritage, natural wonders, and vibrant cities. Despite global economic uncertainties and geopolitical tensions, the Middle Kingdom continued to attract visitors from across the globe, bolstering its position as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Inbound Tourism Revenue: Driving Economic Growth

The influx of international visitors not only enriched China’s cultural landscape but also contributed significantly to its economy. In 2019, inbound tourism revenue reached USD 131.3 billion, representing a solid 2% increase from the previous year. This influx of foreign spending fueled various sectors of the economy, from hospitality and retail to transportation and entertainment, highlighting the pivotal role of tourism in driving economic growth and development.

Outbound Tourism Trips: A Growing Appetite for Global Exploration

While China’s inbound tourism sector thrived, its citizens also displayed a growing appetite for international travel. In 2019, outbound tourism trips from China reached 154.63 million, marking a notable 3.3% increase over the previous year. This trend reflects the rising affluence of Chinese travellers and their increasing willingness to explore destinations beyond their borders, contributing to the global tourism industry’s growth and diversification.

Domestic Tourism: Exploring the Nation’s Treasures

Amidst the bustling landscape of inbound and outbound travel, China’s domestic tourism sector emerged as a powerhouse in its own right. In 2019, there were 6.006 trillion domestic trips recorded, showcasing an impressive 8.4% growth compared to the previous year. This surge in domestic travel underscores the deep-seated wanderlust of China’s population, as well as the wealth of attractions and experiences waiting to be discovered within the nation’s borders.

Domestic Tourism Revenue: Fueling Local Economies

The surge in domestic travel not only provided opportunities for exploration and leisure but also served as a significant driver of economic activity. In 2019, domestic tourism revenue in China reached a staggering CNY 5.7 trillion, representing a robust 10% increase from the previous year. This infusion of capital into local economies across the country helped support businesses, create jobs, and stimulate further growth and development.

Total Revenue: A Testament to China’s Tourism Prowess

In aggregate, China’s tourism sector in 2019 demonstrated remarkable resilience and vitality, as reflected in the total revenue figure of CNY 6.63 trillion. This comprehensive metric, encompassing both inbound and outbound tourism, as well as domestic travel and associated expenditures, highlights the nation’s position as a global tourism powerhouse. Despite external challenges and uncertainties, China’s tourism industry continued to thrive, contributing to the nation’s economic prosperity and cultural exchange on the world stage.

China Travel Statistics in 2020

China Travel Statistics - 124 Million Decrease
Lijiang, Yunnan

In 2020, China’s bustling domestic tourism sector faced unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe. The number of domestic trips made within China plummeted to approximately 2.8 billion, marking a sharp decrease from the previous year. Government-imposed lockdowns, travel restrictions, and fears of the virus significantly dampened travel demand, leading to a stark contrast to the robust figures seen in 2019.

International Tourist Arrivals: A Sharp Contrast

The once-thriving landscape of international tourism in China bore the brunt of the pandemic’s impact, with a staggering drop in international visitor arrivals. In 2020, the number dwindled to approximately 27.5 million, representing a stark contrast to the 145.3 million recorded in the preceding year. The closure of borders, suspension of flights, and stringent quarantine measures dealt a severe blow to the nation’s tourism industry, highlighting the fragility of global travel in the face of unforeseen crises.

Outbound Travel: Facing Unprecedented Challenges

Chinese outbound travel, which had experienced exponential growth in previous years, faced a precipitous decline in 2020. With international borders sealed and travel advisories in place, the total number of departures plummeted by 86.9% compared to 2019, with only 20.34 million outbound trips recorded. This sharp downturn underscored the unprecedented challenges faced by travellers seeking to venture beyond China’s borders, as well as the broader impact of the pandemic on global mobility and connectivity.

Travel Agencies: Adapting to Changing Realities

The upheaval caused by the pandemic reverberated throughout China’s travel industry, affecting businesses large and small. By the end of 2020, the number of travel agencies in China stood at 40,682, reflecting the resilience and adaptability of the sector in the face of adversity. However, the fourth quarter of the year saw a significant downturn, with these agencies organising approximately 25.25 million domestic trips, down 49% year-on-year. This decline underscored the challenges faced by travel operators in navigating the rapidly changing landscape of travel demand and consumer behaviour amidst the ongoing pandemic.

China Travel Statistics in 2021

China Travel Statistics - 124 Million Decrease
Guilin Classic Chinese Countryside

In 2021, China’s domestic tourism sector emerged from the shadow of the pandemic with a remarkable surge in activity. The nation saw a significant increase in domestic tourist trips, with a total of 4.1 billion trips made throughout the year. This marked a staggering 42% increase from 2020, underscoring the resilience and adaptability of both travellers and the tourism industry in navigating the challenges presented by the global situation. The resurgence of domestic travel played a pivotal role in revitalising local economies, supporting businesses, and restoring confidence in the safety and appeal of travel within China’s borders.

Tourism Revenue: A Testament to Recovery

Accompanying the surge in domestic tourism was a notable uptick in tourism revenue, further signalling the recovery and resurgence of China’s tourism industry. The revenue from domestic tourism reached approximately RMB 3.3 trillion (about USD 511 billion), representing a remarkable 48% increase year-on-year. This influx of spending not only provided a much-needed boost to businesses across the hospitality, transportation, and entertainment sectors but also highlighted the enduring appeal of China’s diverse array of attractions and experiences.

As travel resumed and restrictions eased, Chinese travellers embraced a variety of new trends and experiences in 2021. Mini-breaks, rural tourism, and ‘red tourism’—which involves visiting historical sites related to the Communist Party of China—emerged as popular choices among domestic travellers seeking to explore their own country’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty. Additionally, the report noted a rise in activities such as camping, self-driving tours, skiing, and hot springs, reflecting a growing appetite for outdoor adventure and experiential travel experiences. These trends not only diversified the tourism landscape but also provided opportunities for sustainable and community-focused tourism initiatives to flourish.

China Travel Statistics in 2022

China Travel Statistics - 124 Million Decrease
Sanya Bay

In 2022, China’s domestic tourism sector continued its trajectory of recovery, signalling a resurgence in travel activity within the country. The number of domestic tourist arrivals showed a notable increase from the previous year, reaching approximately 4.89 billion. This upward trend reflects the resilience of China’s tourism industry in the face of ongoing challenges and uncertainties, as well as the pent-up demand for travel experiences among domestic travellers eager to explore their own country’s vast and diverse landscapes.

Tourism Revenue: A Driving Force for Economic Growth

While specific revenue figures for 2022 were not provided, China’s tourism industry has long been recognised as a significant contributor to the nation’s economy. Over the years, the industry has experienced steady growth, with tourism revenue playing a pivotal role in driving economic development, job creation, and infrastructure investment. The sustained increase in revenue underscores the enduring appeal of China as a premier travel destination, as well as the importance of tourism as a cornerstone of the nation’s economic prosperity.

Business Travel: A Vital Component of the Market

In 2022, China’s importance in the global business travel market remained robust, with projections indicating a substantial annual business travel spend. The nation’s dynamic economy, burgeoning industries, and status as a global business hub positioned it as a key player in facilitating corporate travel and fostering international business partnerships. By 2022, China was projected to have a business travel spend of $129 billion, underscoring its significance in driving corporate travel demand and supporting related industries and services.

Travel Patterns: Adapting to Changing Realities

Despite sporadic COVID-19 outbreaks and fluctuations in travel sentiment, 2022 witnessed a pattern of recovery in the desire for travel within China. Research indicates that approximately two months after a decline in travel sentiment due to outbreaks or other disruptions, there was a notable rebound in travel demand. This resilience and adaptability among travellers reflect their willingness to navigate uncertainties and embrace new norms and safety measures in order to satisfy their inherent desire for exploration and discovery.

China Travel Statistics in 2023

In 2023, China’s domestic tourism sector maintained its robust recovery, with a notable increase in domestic tourist arrivals. The momentum built over previous years persisted, reflecting the resilience and adaptability of both travellers and the tourism industry in navigating the challenges posed by the global situation. As domestic travel regained its foothold, travellers across the country embraced the opportunity to explore China’s diverse landscapes, cultural heritage, and vibrant cities, fueling optimism for continued growth and expansion within the domestic tourism market.

Tourism Revenue: A Strong Start to the Year

The Chinese New Year holidays in 2023 served as a significant milestone for the nation’s tourism industry, with a substantial number of domestic trips generating almost RMB 376 billion in tourism revenue. This marked a remarkable achievement, indicating that domestic travel volume had recovered to 90 per cent of 2019 figures while spending bounced back to around 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. The strong start to the year underscored the resilience and adaptability of China’s tourism sector, as well as the enduring appeal of domestic travel experiences among Chinese consumers.

Outbound Tourism: A Resurgence in International Travel

In a clear sign of renewed interest in international travel, the number of outbound visits from China exceeded 87 million in 2023, marking a twofold increase compared with the previous year. This strong resurgence in international travel interest signalled a turning point for Chinese travellers, who were eager to venture beyond their borders and explore destinations abroad once again. With travel restrictions easing and borders reopening, China’s outbound tourism market emerged as a key driver of global travel demand, contributing to the recovery and revitalisation of the international tourism industry.

Travel Preferences: Embracing Diversity

A survey conducted in 2023 shed light on the diverse travel preferences of Chinese consumers, with approximately 60 per cent expressing a desire to travel abroad. Others had either domestic travel plans or no intentions to travel that year, reflecting the varied interests and priorities of travellers in a post-pandemic landscape. As travel restrictions eased and confidence in safety measures grew, travellers embraced the opportunity to explore new destinations, immerse themselves in different cultures, and create lasting memories through meaningful travel experiences.

Consumer Behaviour: Investing in Quality

The survey also revealed notable shifts in consumer behaviour, with an 89% reported increase in interest in travelling among respondents. A significant majority, 71%, planned to increase the number of trips they took in 2023 compared to previous years, while 82% were planning to increase their travel budgets compared to 2019. This trend indicated a growing emphasis on quality over quantity, with travellers seeking more comfortable accommodation, better food, and authentic local experiences as they embarked on their journeys.

Predictions for China Travel Statistics in 2024

China Travel Statistics - 124 Million Decrease
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Predictions for China’s travel statistics in 2024 suggest that the country’s domestic tourism sector will maintain its upward trajectory, building on the recovery momentum observed in previous years. As confidence in travel safety grows and consumer demand for domestic experiences remains strong, the number of domestic trips is expected to continue increasing. This trend bodes well for local economies, businesses, and tourism operators across the country, as they stand to benefit from sustained domestic travel activity.

Expansion of Outbound Travel

In 2024, Chinese travellers are projected to embark on a greater number of international outbound trips compared to the previous year. This significant increase reflects a growing interest in exploring destinations beyond China’s borders, as well as the gradual easing of travel restrictions and border closures. However, it is important to note that even with this growth, outbound travel volumes are expected to remain around 22% below the levels seen in 2019. Full recovery to pre-pandemic levels is not anticipated until 2025, highlighting the lingering effects of the global situation on international travel patterns.

Destination Recovery Dynamics

The Middle East is anticipated to see the quickest recovery in arrivals from China, with visits expected to exceed pre-pandemic volumes in 2024. This reflects the region’s efforts to attract Chinese tourists through strategic marketing initiatives, visa facilitation measures, and the development of appealing tourism products and experiences. In contrast, travel to Europe and the Americas from China may take longer to rebound, with pre-pandemic levels not expected to be reached until 2026. These dynamics underscore the varied pace of recovery across different destinations, influenced by factors such as vaccine rollout, border policies, and consumer confidence.

Global Influence of Chinese Outbound Travel

Looking further ahead, predictions indicate that Chinese outbound travel will increasingly shape global travel patterns and trends. From 2026 onwards, Chinese outbound travel is expected to catch up with demand from other source markets and significantly contribute to global travel. China’s share of global outbound visits is projected to reach around 8% by 2033, highlighting the nation’s growing influence as a major source market for international tourism. This trend underscores the importance of understanding and catering to the preferences and needs of Chinese travellers for destinations and businesses worldwide.

Embracing Change and Opportunity

In conclusion, the predictions for China’s travel statistics in 2024 point towards a continued recovery and growth in the travel sector, both domestically and internationally. As travellers adapt to evolving circumstances and destinations and adjust to changing consumer preferences, opportunities abound for businesses, governments, and tourism stakeholders to capitalise on emerging trends and capture a share of China’s dynamic and expanding travel market. By embracing change, fostering innovation, and prioritising safety and sustainability, the future of China’s travel industry looks bright, with boundless opportunities for exploration, discovery, and mutual enrichment on a global scale.

Sources: The above data has been obtained from the following sources: Travel China Guide, Statista, China Daily, World Bank, Dragon Trail, CEIC, China Travel News, McKinsey, Forbes, and Oxford Economics.

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