Chinese tourists' interest in traveling abroad remains high and is being encouraged by improved travel services and tour packages and the expansion of niche markets, according to a new report from the China Tourism Academy.
The report said that nearly 150 million such visits were made by Chinese travelers in 2018, up 14.7 percent year-on-year. While that solidifies the nation's position as the world's biggest market for outbound tourism, there is still plenty of potential for expansion, it added.
Spending on travel also is helping drive the economy through sales of tours, airline tickets, insurance and other travel-related purchases as well as helping to boost other nations' economies.
While recent figures for Chinese travelers' spending were not available, the academy estimated that spending may have reached $120 billion in 2018, with average spending of $800 per outbound traveler.
The 10 top outbound destinations for Chinese travelers in 2018, in order of popularity, were Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United States, Cambodia, Russia and the Philippines, according to the academy's report, which was compiled in cooperation with online travel service Ctrip.
Some niche destinations, like Myanmar, emerged to attract more Chinese visitors last year thanks to the opening of nonstop flights and lower-priced accommodations compared with some popular destinations. China's friendly diplomacy with nations such as Argentina, Mexico and Brazil also has helped introduce visitors to those nations' attractions.
Reservations to Argentina through Ctrip rose by 166 percent year-on-year in 2018.
While visits abroad have increased at a steady pace, better and more varied tours that offer heightened assurances of safety could help unleash even more of the market's potential, the report said.
Some 173 million private passports were issued by China in the 15 years between 2002 and 2017, representing more than 10 percent of the total population. But only about 71.25 million overseas visits were made in 2018, meaning only about 5 percent of the population went overseas. Those figures exclude travel to the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions and Taiwan.
"China's tourism industry is entering a period of high-quality development, marked by market-oriented demand," said Yang Jinsong, a researcher at the China Tourism Academy.
Years ago, when outbound tourism was still in its infancy, Chinese travelers were easier to please and happy primarily to have new experiences visiting foreign destinations. "However, things are different," Yang said. "Travelers now are much more experienced in outbound trips and require better services during the journey and at the destinations."
Safety also is being raised more often as a primary concern for travelers, and demand has risen for travel insurance to cover such issues as disasters, inclement weather, medical care and high-risk activities. Ctrip said that travelers insured through its platform increased by 20 percent year-on-year in 2018.