While Chinese tourists traveling abroad may bring a bit of trouble and chaos to their host country, they also bring in something much more important — cold hard cash.
In 2016, Chinese travelers spent $261 billion on overseas trips, 12% more than the previous year, according to data recently released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
That figure is also more than double the mere $122 billion that American travelers spent abroad in 2016. Germany, the United Kingdom and France rounded out the world’s top five biggest spenders, though even combined those three don’t come close to equaling the economic might of Chinese tourists who made 135 million trips abroad last year.
Of course, China well knows the power of its travel-hungry people, using them to great effect in its latest conflict with South Korea over the US-backed THAAD missile defense system. Last month, Chinese tourist agencies were banned from sending tour groups to South Korea as flights and cruises between the two countries were cut. In one particularly sensational incident, 3,400 Chinese tourists refused to set foot on South Korean soil after their cruise ship docked at the once popular resort island of Jeju.
Last year, 8.06 million Chinese tourists visited South Korea, accounting for around half of the country’s foreign visitors. Early estimates indicated that the country could lose $9.63 billion in tourism revenue as a result of the ban. Hardest hit will be duty-free shops which rely on deep-pocketed Chinese tourists for 70% of their business.
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