PHOTO: Chinese tourists spent $261 billion on travel abroad in 2016. (photo via Flickr/Jody McIntyre)
China continues to lead the world in international outbound tourism spending by a wide margin, according to the latest figures released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Chinese travelers spent 12 percent more visiting foreign countries in 2016 compared to the previous year, shelling out $11 billion more to achieve a total expenditure of $261 billion.
Outbound travelers from China also grew by 6 percent last year, rising to 135 million.
According to the UNWTO, Japan, South Korea and Thailand benefited most from China's growing source market last year, while the U.S. and Europe were also beneficiaries.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, Chinese visitors to the U.S. are expected to more than double from roughly 2.6 million people in 2015 to nearly 6 million by 2021. What's more, those travelers are projected to spend more on their visit than their counterparts from other countries. Therefore, it comes as little surprise the U.S. has been ramping up efforts to better accommodate Chinese visitors in recent years.
Interestingly, a recent survey conducted by tourism marketing agency Brand USA found that among travelers from 11 different countries, Chinese visitors are the only nationality that indicated they are more likely to visit the U.S. amid this year's uncertain political climate than they were late last year.
To put China's dramatic rate of growth in perspective, the country has experienced double-digit growth every year since 2004 and spent just $102 billion on outbound tourism as recently as 2012.
Trailing China, the U.S. maintained its standing as the second-largest market. Outbound travelers from the U.S. spent 8 percent more in 2016 compared to the previous year for a total expenditure of $122 billion, which is still fewer than half of China's total. Officials credit a strong U.S. dollar for propelling the $9 billion increase over 2015.
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Germany, the U.K. and France round out the top five for 2016, with each reporting growth. Germany and France saw 5 percent and 7 percent growth in international tourism spending last year compared to 2015, respectively, while the U.K. saw a 7 percent jump in residents' visits abroad.
On the other hand, Canada saw little change in outbound tourism, spending $29 billion on travel abroad, with outbound overnight trips falling 3 percent to 31 million in 2016.
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Meanwhile, Russia and Brazil saw decreased expenditure in 2016 as a result of troubled economies and currencies.
Still, several countries surpassed or rivaled China's growth in 2016. The UNWTO revealed that Vietnam experienced 28 percent growth in spending last year compared to 2015, while Argentina saw a 26 percent rise. Egypt (up 19 percent), Spain (up 17 percent), India (up 16 percent), Israel and Ukraine (up 12 percent), Qatar and Thailand (up 11 percent) also recorded double-digit spending growth in 2016.
"The latest data on outbound tourism spending are very encouraging. Despite the many challenges of recent years, results of spending on travel abroad are consistent with the 4 percent growth to 1.2 billion international tourist arrivals reported earlier this year for 2016," said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in a statement.
"People continue to have a strong appetite for travel and this benefits many countries all around the world, translating into economic growth, job creation and opportunities for development."