Hong Kong still the chosen destination but Chinese widen their horizons

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The Independent Online

First comes Asia then comes the world. China's official tourism body has predicted that the nation will be sending more tourists overseas than ever before in 2010 - and that they will be spending more money than ever too.



Where once Chinese tourists were only permitted to travel to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwain, since the 1990s the country has expanded its Approved Destination Status (ADS) program to include more than 100 countries.

And while those first three destinations still dominate China's flow of outbound tourists - accounting for more than 70 percent annually - other destinations are looking to cash in.

Sri Lanka last year reported a 70 percent rise in Chinese tourist numbers, Nepal a staggering 242.5 percent increase while the tiny Maldives attracted 40,000 Chinese in 2009.

China already ranks as the number one tourist market within Asia and estimations now are that around 100 million Chinese will be traveling the region, annually, by 2020.

But more will also be setting their sights on climes a little farther away, according to the "Annual Report of China Outbound Tourism Development 2009-2010'' released by the China Tourism Academy (CTA).

The report predicts 54 million Chinese will head off overseas this year - up from 47 million in 2009 - and that they will spend around 48 billion yuan (5.2 billion euros) when they do, up 14 percent from last year.

Lingering economic woes were blamed in the report for being behind the fact that only 27 percent of China's international tourists - or 12.88 million - took off for "foreign countries'' last year. But that figure is expected to climb in 2010.

The mass majority of China's outbound tourists - or 73 percent - took off to Hong Kong, Macau or to Taiwan in 2009 as financial concerns forced them to travel closer to home, according to the report.

No surprise to see that shopping topped the list for what China's outbound tourists spent on while away - it was marked down as the biggest expenditure by almost 50 percent of 2,600 tourists who were polled in January for the report.

Other major expenses were transport (almost 44 percent), dining out (around 34 percent) and paying for entry tickets to scenic spots, the major expense for almost 27 percent of those polled.

According to a CTA spokesperson, China's outbound tourists would continue to spend, thereby offsetting the nation's trade surplus and "continuing to contribute to the recovery of the world economy.''