China overtakes US as number one spender on international travel

4th March 2015

Image: Chinese tourists in Georgetown, Malaysia ©Shankar S, licensed by Creative Commons via flickr

Image: Chinese tourists in Georgetown, Malaysia ©Shankar S, licensed by Creative Commons via flickr


China has overtaken the US as the largest source of spending on international travel, according to a recent report by the Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). This follows a trend of increasing international travel by Chinese people, as income levels rise and travel restrictions are relaxed. Rising income levels in other countries, such as India and Brazil, have also seen increasing numbers of people starting to holiday abroad. This trend looks set to continue, changing the face of tourism globally.

In the past, tourism has tended to be within the Western world, with tourists coming mostly from and to countries in Europe and North America. But this looks set to change, as other nations acquire the resources to travel abroad – and as foreign travel becomes more embedded culturally. Research in the IHG report indicates that once Chinese families attain an income level of around US$35,000 they are likely to start spending some of it on travel abroad. Currently, Chinese tourists tend to visit cities within Asia (Bangkok and Seoul being the two where most Chinese tourist money is spent) but Chinese tourists are increasingly looking to travel further afield. Already, international tourist bodies, such as the IHG, are exploring how to attract and better satisfy the requirements of their Chinese customers.

As tourist numbers continue to rise – over a billion tourist journeys were made last year – the question of how to handle such numbers is an important one for tourist sites, hosting countries, and the world as a whole, given the huge environmental impacts of air travel. The Independent Transport Commission believes that understanding who wishes to travel, where and why will be crucial in better planning for this future. To this end, the ITC’s Why Travel? project explores the fundamental motivations for travel from a wide range of perspectives and offers important lessons for the future. For more information on the project, including expert views from across the arts, sciences and humanities, see