Business Irish

Saturday 24 February 2018

Chinese visitors are redrawing the tourist map

Donal O'Donovan and Miral Fahmy

The surge in tourism from China is being felt across the world.

Historic visa restrictions and distance mean the tradeis still in its infancy here but some Asia destinations may already be over-reliant on the country's visitors.

Cities such as Bangkok and Singapore are vulnerable to any decline in Chinese arrivals and consequent drop in tourism revenues because of their lack of diversification in visitors and growing dependence on Chinese tourists.

London is the city most visited by international travellers, and will rack up an estimated at US$20.23bn this year from overseas travellers - including from Dublin which is the UK capital's third most important feeder city for tourism, behind New York and Amsterdam.

While London is an established destination, Asia was home to 70pc of the fastest-growing cities by visitor arrivals last year, the annual MasterCard Global Destinations Index shows. The index ranks the world's 132 most popular cities by international visitor numbers and spending.

No Irish city makes the cut.

In Asia the bulk of growth was due to outbound travel from China.

Last year, more than 13pc of visitors to Asia-Pacific destinations were from China, the highest proportion among all foreign travellers and more than double the figure of just under 6pc recorded five years ago.

By comparison, Chinese tourists accounted for just 0.6pc of all arrivals in London last year, according to the MasterCard data.

The Government here has set out to win more of the Chinese market, including through a joint British Irish Visa Scheme rolled out last autumn.

It allows Chinese passport holders to travel to both Ireland and the UK on a single valid visitor visa issued by either Ireland or the UK.

China's emerging middle class and relaxation of travel restrictions means the country is now the source of a potentially vast new tourism market.

"As a source of tourists, China looms large and a lot of Asian cities have benefited hugely," MasterCard Chief Economist Dr Yuwa Hedrick-Wong told Reuters.

"But they have grown to be very dependent on these tourists, and one must be cautious not to go down one path too far. You must diversify."

With tourism an important source of revenue for many countries such as Thailand in a weak global economy, cities that get tourists from multiple destinations are more "resilient".

Less-diversified cities should actively court tourists from a variety of destinations through publicity campaigns or by offering a wide range of attractions that appeal to a broad international audience, Hedrick-Wong suggested

Istanbul, the world's sixth most popular with international visitors, is the most diversified, with half of its visitors coming from 33 different cities. Top-ranked London is the second-most resilient, while top Asian destination Bangkok is 7th.

Irish Independent

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