Chinese tourists flood Asia
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- With China making its World Cup debut this year, some 100, 000 mainland Chinese are watching their team play in person, the largest contingent of visitors to descend on Korea from any country.
It is an invasion, in fact, on many fronts. From the beaches of Thailand to the shops of Hong Kong, China's burgeoning middle class is flooding Asia's tourist spots.
"There are a lot of people coming out, trying to feel the outside world," says Clara Chong, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
"Hong Kong, being one of the closest in terms of geographical advantages and our close relationship, is almost a natural gateway."
It is a gateway this year for some 5.3 million mainland tourists, up 20 percent from last year, and about one third of total visitors.
Arrivals surged after Hong Kong abolished the quota system for Chinese group tours in January. Beijing has also relaxed its own restrictions on traveling abroad.
At the same time, living standards on the mainland are increasing, and more people have the money to spend on travel.
And spend they do -- more than $20 billion a year to go abroad. In many countries, such as Thailand, Chinese tourists outspend their counterparts from elsewhere in Asia.
The new wave could add as much as 0.7 percent to Hong Kong's growth in 2002, and is expected to be an important boost for many economies in the region.
According to the World Tourism Organization, the number of Chinese vacationing overseas will soar from the current 10 million a year to 50 million in 2010, and 100 million by 2020.
This is leading to stiff competition for the Chinese traveling dollar.
"Our focus is concentrating on three markets, Beijing, Shanghai, and Quangdong. We're building awareness of Australia as a holiday destination, through the media," says Johnny Nee, general manager of the Australian Tourist Commission in Hong Kong.
Australia currently has an advantage over other western hot spots because it is on China's list of approved destinations -- but the U.S. and countries in Europe are working on their approval.
So in demand are travelers from China, that even rival Taiwan has just lifted a five decade ban on tourist visits from the mainland.
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