Chinese tourists have caught the international travel bug — and the rest of the world is desperately hoping they never lose it.
The number of tourist departures from China hit a whopping 97.3 million in 2013, up more than nine fold from 2000, according to the Germany-based China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.
To put this staggering figure into context, that means about one in 10 international tourists is now Chinese.
Chinese globetrotters also spend more than any other country: $129 billion in 2013, up 26 percent on the previous year and well ahead of the $86 billion spent by American travelers.
And if you think these figures are huge, consider this: only about 4 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people own passports.
It's a safe bet that the dizzying pace of growth of Chinese outbound tourism will continue as more people earn enough money to visit the likes of Paris, New York, Sydney and London.
Understandably, Chinese tourists have become a hot commodity, particularly after the financial crisis plunged much of the world into a deep recession.
Countries and companies are now falling all over themselves to attract increasingly wealthy Chinese travelers to their shores.
Here's some examples:
Hiring Chinese police reinforcements
Paris might be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but it’s also becoming increasingly dangerous — at least for Chinese tourists. Travelers from China often carry large amounts of cash, making them easy prey for pickpockets and muggers. Concerned that the rising number of assaults on Chinese tourists could frighten them away, French authorities are recruiting Chinese police to help patrol tourist hot spots and keep their fellow citizens safe.
Relaxing visa requirements
To lure more Chinese tourists to their shores, several countries, including the United States and Britain, have cut the red tape for Chinese visitors applying for visas. Some nations are even considering doing away with the document altogether. In October, the British government announced a 24-hour “super priority” visa application for Chinese business visitors and a scheme to allow Chinese tourists to apply for a UK and Schengen visa at the same time, instead of filing two separate applications. The move came after a barrage of criticism that the British visa process was deterring visitors.
Accepting Chinese credit cards
Let’s be honest: It’s not Chinese tourists that companies want, it’s their money. To that end British luxury department store Harrods announced in April 2012 that it had installed 75 UnionPay (China’s main credit card) terminals in its store in Knightsbridge, London, as well as eight at its airport branches.
Dishing up congee
Keen to attract more Chinese guests, hotels around the world are adjusting their services. French hotel group Accor, for example, employs Mandarin speaking staff and offers translations of maps and menus, adaptor plugs and Chinese newspapers. It also serves up Chinese dishes such as congee, soup and noodles for guests wanting a taste of home.
Hiring Chinese ski instructors
As overseas vacations become more commonplace, Chinese tourists increasingly want to do more than just shop at big-brand stores and take snapshots of landmarks. Now they want adventure holidays such as skiing. Canada is going after this small but growing market by hiring Chinese or Chinese-speaking ski instructors at its ski resorts.
Cashing in on the popularity of Chinese celebrities
Some countries are using Chinese celebrities to attract more tourists. Take New Zealand for example. Tourism authorities there have cashed in on the popularity of Chinese actress Yao Chen, pictured above, who has more than 66 million followers on Chinese microblogging service Weibo, by hosting her wedding and making her the face of its '100% Pure New Zealand' campaign in China.
Hosting Chinese movie shoots
The number of Chinese visitors to Thailand more than doubled in the first nine months of 2013 from the previous year to over 3.24 million, making the Southeast Asian country the second most popular destination for Chinese tourists. The sharp increase was largely credited to the 2012 box-office hit “Lost in Thailand,” a Chinese comedy about two businessmen who go searching for their boss in Thailand. The tiny island of Mauritius is now hoping for the same spike after the release of the China-Japan co-production “Five Minutes to Tomorrow” this year.