Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Chinese travelers the world's biggest spenders

By Karla Cripps, CNN
April 12, 2013 -- Updated 0611 GMT (1411 HKT)
By 2015, 100 million Chinese will travel abroad, a benchmark originally forecast for 2020, according to the UNWTO.
By 2015, 100 million Chinese will travel abroad, a benchmark originally forecast for 2020, according to the UNWTO.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese travelers spent $102 billion overseas in 2012
  • Rising incomes, relaxed restrictions behind surge
  • Experts say Chinese tourists focus on shopping

(CNN) -- Chinese travelers are now the top source of tourism cash in the world, according to a new report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Boosted by a rising Chinese currency, Chinese travelers spent a record US$102 billion on international tourism in 2012, a 40 percent rise from US$73 billion in 2011.

Chinese tourism: The good, the bad, the backlash

The results fall right in line with China's outbound tourism growth over the last 10 years.

The UNWTO says the volume of international trips by Chinese travelers grew from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012, making it the world's fastest-growing market.

So what's behind the increase?

The UNWTO credits rapid urbanization, rising disposable incomes and the relaxation of government restrictions on foreign travel.

"In 2005 China ranked seventh in international tourism expenditure, and has since successively overtaken Italy, Japan, France and the United Kingdom," says the report.

"With the 2012 surge, China leaped to first place, surpassing both top spender Germany and second largest spender United States (both close to US$84 billion in 2012)."

Though the report did not break down spending per trip amongst international travelers, calculating total spend by number of trips suggests Chinese travelers averaged a spend of $1,230 per trip.

By 2015, 100 million Chinese will travel abroad, a benchmark originally forecast for 2020, according to the UNWTO.

And now that China's State Council has crafted a landmark plan to kick start Chinese outbound tourism even further, expect more phenomenal growth figures.

It is dubbed the "Outline for National Tourism and Leisure (2013-2020)" and is a roadmap for restructuring the current paid leave system across China with an aim to encourage governmental agencies, social organizations, enterprises and public institutions to promote the use of leave days. Importantly, it also gives Chinese workers more freedom and flexibility of where and when to travel.

It's all about shopping

And what do Chinese travelers prefer to do on their trips?

According to Dr. Yong Chen of Hong Kong Polytechnic University who specializes in Chinese outbound tourism, unlike other global travelers, Chinese tourists focus mainly on shopping.

"It is the most prominent difference and more evidential in recent years," says Chen.

"If you look at Chinese tourists 10 years ago, they will mainly buy souvenirs. Nowadays, they want to buy luxury products in Italy or Paris like handbags and watches."

Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), agrees, saying shopping is one of the main drivers for Chinese tourists.

"Luxury goods are 20-30% cheaper in other global cities. If you plan to spend US$10,000 on shopping and only spend US$1,000 on airfare, it's much cheaper for Chinese tourists to fly abroad to shop."

Traveling is also a form of soft power, he adds, so it's only natural for the Chinese government to support its citizens to head abroad.

"For Chinese people the United States is the only competitor left," he says.

"They have an interest in the model for capitalistic development and want to see what they can learn so they can overtake and become number one."

Chinese are very proud of the fact that they are traveling, he adds, given the Cultural Revolution is still fresh the minds of people over 40.

"This happened all in one generation," he says. "Many have parents who didn't have shoes. All this growth happened so fast it's still in living memory.

"Now they're showing the world and themselves: 'I'm strong, I can go spend US$5,000 for nothing, just my pleasure.'"

Other hot markets

Other emerging markets to increase tourism spending abroad over the past decade include Russia, which saw an increase of 32 percent in 2012 to US$43 billion, bringing it from seventh to fifth place in the international tourism spending rankings.

"Emerging economies continue to lead growth in tourism demand," said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in a statement.

"The impressive growth of tourism expenditure from China and Russia reflects the entry into the tourism market of a growing middle class from these countries, which will surely continue to change the map of world tourism."

Meanwhile, traditionally hot outbound tourism markets, usually growing at a slower pace, also posted positive results, says the report.

Spending on travel abroad from Germany and the United States grew by 6% each.

Spending from the UK grew by 4% and the country retained its fourth place spot in the list of major source markets. Expenditure by Canada grew by 7%, while both Australia and Japan grew by 3%.

The only markets in the top 10 to record a decline in international tourism spending were France (down 6%) and Italy (minus 1%.)

Top international tourism spenders in 2012

1. China -- US$102 billion
2. Germany -- US$83.8 billion
3. United States -- US$83.7 billion
4. United Kingdom -- US$52.3 billion
5. Russian Federation -- US$42.8 billion
6. France -- US$38.1 billion
7. Canada -- US$35.2 billion
8. Japan -- US$28.1 billion
9. Australia -- US$27.6 billion
10. Italy -- US$26.2 billion
11. Singapore -- US$22.4 billion
12. Brazil -- US$22.2 billion
13. Belgium -- US$21.7
14. Hong Kong (China) -- US$20.5 billion
15. Netherlands -- US$20.2 billion

-- source: UNWTO.

CNN's Hiufu Wong contributed to this story

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Nonprofit Ethical Traveler has released its annual list of the developing countries doing the most to promote human rights and preserve their environments.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1036 GMT (1836 HKT)
These waterfront watering holes have killer ocean views, creative drinks and the mahalo vibe we demand.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 2038 GMT (0438 HKT)
Can't wait to book your ticket to Indianapolis and Oakland? The venerable guidebook is right there with you
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0625 GMT (1425 HKT)
By helicopter, snowmobile and big-wheel truck across some of the world's most volatile landscapes.
December 9, 2014 -- Updated 2142 GMT (0542 HKT)
Construction begins on a new Singapore airport complex that could make delays and layovers a pleasure.
December 9, 2014 -- Updated 1441 GMT (2241 HKT)
Inflight chatterboxes are annoying but they're not the worst violators of onboard etiquette, according to an Expedia study.
December 8, 2014 -- Updated 2232 GMT (0632 HKT)
These statues are awe-inspiring even for the strongest of non-believers.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The Palace of the Parliament, built by former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
25 years after the death of Romania's communist dictator, tourism is helping heal old wounds.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
Photo sharing website names the top 10 destinations for geo-tagged snapshots.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 1005 GMT (1805 HKT)
New York may be a paradise of Zagat-rated, Michelin-starred restaurants, but some of its best food can be found on the streets.
December 2, 2014 -- Updated 0601 GMT (1401 HKT)
Guide Lebo behind the wheel of Chobe Game Lodge's first electric game viewing vehicle, at Chobe National Park in Botswana.
Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana ups the eco stakes with what it claims is world's first battery-powered safari fleet.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0118 GMT (0918 HKT)
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
These quirky and beautiful subway stops make standing cheek-to-cheek with 45 strangers almost seem fun.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
A scene from a desert safari in Dubai
Luxury vintage Land Rover tours explore Bedouin backwaters without bashing up precious dunes.
ADVERTISEMENT