China To Outshine US, Germany’s Outbound Tourism In 2012
A general view shows the Badaling section of the Great Wall before Earth Hour on the outskirts of Beijing, March 31, 2012.

With about 78 million Chinese expected to travel abroad in 2012, China will outdo the US and Germany in outbound travel by the end of the year, officials at a China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market (COTTM) exhibition said in Beijing on Friday. The figure is a significant improvement over the 70 million recorded in 2011, which is in itself a 20 percent increase from the previous year.

The Asian country is set to become the world's largest source of outbound travelers and the amount of money spent on these trips is likely to reach a record £50bn ($80bn), according to COTTM's Project Director Matt Thompson, who was quoted in a Xinhua report. Tourism officials add that easing of visa procedures and increasing government support, together with an emerging middle class, will significantly contribute to the country's growing outbound travel market.

"Beijing recently granted licenses to three foreign companies to organise tours for outbound Chinese tourists. TUI is the first European tour operator, CITS American Express Travel Services for the US and JTB New Century International Tours for Japan. The move is seen as key to opening up the country's lucrative outbound market," COTTM said in a statement.

United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) data states Germany is the largest outbound travel market worldwide, followed by the United States. The latter spent approximately £46bn ($75bn) on travel abroad in 2010 and is still the second most important source market in the world.

However, China will beat both countries this year and much before earlier predictions which suggested outbound travel numbers would grow to 79 million by 2015. Moreover, the UNWTO predicts the total number of outbound tourists from China will reach 100 million by 2020.

Meanwhile, the country's inbound travel market is also one of the fastest-growing in the world. An emerging economy, it is a budding tourist destination and predicted to become the world's largest travel destination in the next five to seven years. The Secretary-General of the UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, said the country's diverse culture, range of heritage sites and culinary options were proving to have a hold over tourists.

The country received 53 million foreign visitors in 2010 and according to the UNWTO's forecast the number of international tourists expected, by 2015, could grow to about 188 million, giving it a 50 percent share of the inbound market for the Asia-Pacific region.