Chinese tourists maintain biggest spenders’ crown


china-top-tourist-spendingChina’s economy may have slowed in 2016 but Chinese citizens still found enough money to once again lead the world in international outbound tourism spending.

Figures released Wednesday by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) showed Chinese tourists spending $261b traveling to other nations in 2016, 12% higher than in 2015 and more than twice the $102b spent in 2012. Around 135m Chinese nationals made a trip abroad in 2016, up 6% year-on-year.

Chinese tourist spending has enjoyed double-digit growth every year since 2004 and the 2016 results mark the fifth straight year in which Chinese tourists have outspent all other countries. Japan, South Korea and Thailand were the chief beneficiaries of China’s increased tourist activity last year, along with the United States and some European countries.

Increased Chinese visitation to South Korea is all the more impressive given the Chinese government’s efforts to curb gaming-related travel to international casino destinations. Beijing officials have repeatedly fingered South Korea as one of the chief culprits in ‘luring’ Chinese gamblers abroad to engage in activity they can’t legally enjoy at home.

However, the 2017 figures may take a dip following the recent row between China and South Korea over the latter government’s deployment of US missile systems to deter North Korea’s military from making any preemptive strikes on its southern cousin.

Maybank IB Research analysts issued a note this week indicating that Chinese tourists are shifting their travel plans from South Korea to Malaysia, with outbound airline bookings to Malaysia between March 16 and August 31 rising 72% year-on-year. That will likely benefit casino operator Genting, which operates Malaysia’s only legal gaming venue, Resorts World Genting (formerly known as Genting Highlands), located outside Kuala Lumpur.

The UNWTO 2016 rankings placed United States tourists second on the spending chart with $122b (+8%), followed by Germany ($81b), the UK ($64b) and France ($41b). Among the largest 50 source markets, Vietnam enjoyed 2016’s biggest percentage gain, rising 28% from 2015.

In terms of international tourist arrivals, the Asia-Pacific region posted the biggest year-on-year gains, rising 8% to 309m, while Europe remains the most popular travel region with 615m.