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China blames global slowdown for tourism woes

January 9, 2009

BEIJING: 8 Jan 2009 (AFP) - The number of tourists visiting China fell last year for the first time since the deadly SARS virus hit the country in 2003, the government said, blaming the global economic crisis for the decline.
 
Tourist arrivals fell two percent to 130 million last year, and the figure was only expected to bounce back slightly in 2009, the China National Tourism Administration said at a briefing on Wednesday.
 
"All major inbound source markets, except for Hong Kong and Russia, slumped last year amid the economic downturn," administration chief Shao Qiwei said, according to the China Daily on Thursday.
 
"The inbound tourism sector is (again) facing a considerable challenge this year."
 
The last time China saw a fall in tourist arrivals was in 2003, when the contagious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus killed nearly 800 people around the world and brought air travel in Asia to a near-standstill.
 
While inbound numbers fell, the number of Chinese tourists travelling overseas rose by 12 percent to 46 million last year, and was expected to grow another nine percent to 50 million in 2009.
 
But although the government blamed the global economic crisis for the fall in visitors to China, other factors had previously been identified.
 
These include the deadly unrest in Tibet in March, the devastating earthquake in scenic Sichuan province in May and travel restrictions for foreigners in the lead up to and during the August Beijing Olympics.
 
The government sealed off Tibet immediately after the unrest against Chinese rule broke out in March, and only allowed foreign tourists back in at the end of June.
 
As a result, just 340,000 travellers went to Tibet between January and June last year, according to the official Tibet Daily newspaper, down from more than 1.1 million during the same period in 2007.
 
China's capital also saw a sharp drop in visitors during the Olympics, with the number of international travellers falling by 7.2 percent year-on-year in August.
 
China implemented a raft of restrictions on travel to Beijing ahead of the Games, amid concerns terrorism and anti-government protests would disrupt the event.
 
Inbound tourist numbers are forecast to rise by 1.5 percent to 132 million this year, according to the tourism administration. In 2007, roughly half of all tourists stayed for only one day, data published earlier showed.
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