Beijing attracting less tourists?

Last year, the number of foreign visitors to China dropped, including in Beijing, which attracted fewer international tourists. Last month, the China Daily published an interesting article on this slowdown1 in which the author presents three main reasons for this decline.

The first, and most important, reason, according to this article, is the pollution and bad air quality in Beijing. We at UrbaChina have already highlighted the possible damage of pollution on China’s global aspiration. Foreign visitors have seen the grey skies of Beijing on TV and simply do not want to experience it in reality.

The second consists of the economic crisis and Yuan appreciation. China has become more expensive to visit for foreign visitors, especially those coming from Europe.

The third reason raised by this article is that Beijing is no longer exotic. China is not as “mysterious” as it was a few years ago, and Beijing is no longer a dream destination. Although this argument should seem inadequate, the demolition of many “hutong” and the rapid modernisation of the city have negatively influenced foreign tourists, who prefer romantic destinations with fewer skyscrapers and more traditional districts.

However, there may be other reasons for this slowdown. Several articles rightly pointed out that the decline of tourism in China could also be caused by political tensions between China and her neighbours. Heather Timmons from Quartz2 showed that this decline mostly concerns tourism flows from Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia, countries involved in maritime disputes with China. The slowdown is much less significant with tourists from Europe and North America.

If Beijing and Shanghai want to become global tourist destinations, they must make attracting visitors from neighbouring countries a priority, as they are more likely to pick them as week-end destinations. It should be noted that in the case of Paris half of international visitors actually come from Europe.

This means that, for China to host more inbound tourists, more integration is needed in Asia. Since 2003, Japanese tourists can visit China (up to 15 days) without a visa, but this is not enough. There need to be more campaigns targeted at the Japanese and other nations explaining that China welcomes every visitor. This will help Beijing attract more foreign tourists while waiting for grey skies to turn blue once again.

  1. Zhang Yuchen (2014). The city that’s not forbidden, just avoided. China Daily, 13 May 2014, accessed 30 May 2014 from http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-05/13/content_17502797.htm. []
  2. Heather  Timmons (2014). Pollution isn’t the only thing killing tourism in Beijing. Quartz, 14 January 2014, accessed 30 May 2014 from http://qz.com/166554/pollution-isnt-the-only-thing-killing-tourism-in-beijing/. []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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