China is on the move as never before — as tourists. For the first time Chinese top the ranking of the world’s top tourism spenders compiled annually by the U.N.’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Chinese spent $102 billion on travel abroad in 2012, a 40% increase on the previous year and a fivefold increase in the number for 2005. Last year’s increase was sufficient both to leapfrog the Americans and then the Germans in to top spot. It was also sufficient to pass the $100 billion mark for the first time. In 2005, China ranked seventh, behind Italy, Japan, France, the U.K. as well as the U.S. and Germany, with a spend of $21.8 billion.
It is not just the country’s rapid growth that has made it the world’s fastest growing source of tourists over the past several years by putting more disposable cash in the pockets of Chinese, a phenomenon seen in the other Brics, too. There has also been an easing of travel restrictions and an expansion of the country’s urban middle class, which has taken to foreign travel (and shopping) as if to the manner born.
UNWTO counts a more than eightfold increase in the number of foreign trips made by Chinese travelers last year compared to 2000, 83 million versus 10 million. In recent years, a strengthening yuan hasn’t hurt their purchasing power, either.