Updated: 2016-01-08 07:53
By Li Jing and Yang Feiyue(China Daily Europe)
"Before (the 1980s), Japanese tourists liked to stay onshore for vacations. But as they became richer all of a sudden they started to travel more. The same thing is happening in China, but at a much steeper rate," says Daniel Wilson, an economist at ANZ.
Jiang agrees there are common features to these trends, such as a surging economy, rising currency valuation and trade surplus. However, unlike Japan, she says China has not officially encouraged outbound travel as a way to balance its trade deficit, although it has had an effect.
One big difference is the sheer number of Chinese tourists. According to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch report, the current trend "is going to be bigger and will last longer given China's population of 1.3 billion versus Japan's population of 127 million."
Chinese travelers are already seen as the world's biggest spenders. In 2014, they spent a total of $164.8 billion, four times more than in 2008, according to the China Tourism Academy, a government research institute. Almost 90 percent of that was spent shopping.
Of course, the slowdown in the Chinese economy has led to concern in places that have come to rely on Chinese tourist spending. Yet Jiang remains confident: "As tourism is discretionary consumer spending, it is relevant, yet not closely linked to, the country's GDP. But even though there will be a slowdown in GDP growth, you're still going to see more tourists and you're still going to see increased spending."
She says her confidence comes partly from the fact that less than 10 percent of Chinese mainlanders have passports and "only 49 countries and regions have so far granted Chinese citizens visa-free or visa-on-arrival access".
It means the market still has a lot of growth potential, which can be unlocked by more flights to various destinations and relaxed visa policies.
Data from OAG, which compiles air travel intelligence, show 298,353 scheduled domestic and international flights left Chinese airports in November, with capacity on international flights up 20 percent year-on-year. South Korea and Japan lead the way in terms of available capacity, with Vietnam the fastest-growing market.
The figures highlight strong growth in several smaller markets, as Chinese and foreign carriers compete to serve outbound Chinese travelers.
Flights to and from countries such as Afghanistan, Belarus, the Czech Republic and Fiji were launched in 2015, while capacity on flights to countries like Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Turkmenistan grew in excess of 20 percent in the first 11 months.
Meanwhile, the US, Canada and the UK have all introduced extended multiple-entry visas, "which will definitely further encourage long-haul travel among Chinese tourists", Jiang adds.
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