While U.S. Travelers Remain Homebound, Chinese Travelers Are Outbound

The global economic downturn and the recent H1N1 “swine” flu outbreak have undoubtedly put a damper on numerous summer travel plans. This is the age of the so-called “staycation” – or a vacation that involves staying at home, as several media outlets (including this recent column in The New York Times) have defined it.

But while families in the U.S. are hunkering down for home-centric fun this summer, the Chinese may have different plans. According to an article published in China Knowledge at Wharton, in 2000, 10 million Chinese traveled abroad, but in 2008, more than 45 million traveled overseas. And despite some minor dips due to the economy and the lingering fear of a pandemic, the number is likely to grow in the long term, experts say. The reason: rising middle class wealth, coupled with the government’s slow but steady relaxation of travel policies allowing more Chinese citizens to visit places that were previously restricted, like Taiwan.

According to the article, tourism emanating from mainland China is a “potential gold mine.” However, only citizens of certain cities and provinces in China are allowed to travel to particular destinations, and sometimes only under specific circumstances, such as by joining a qualified tour group. The trend is toward a steady increase in the number of qualifying cities and provinces, but given the red tape, patience is advised for all countries that hope to attract Chinese travelers. “It takes time to build up the mainland market,” says Stanley Yen, president of Landis Hotels and Resorts, which manages eight hotels and resorts in Taiwan and two hotels in China. “It’s not like you just open a tap and water comes out.”