China's Bad Air Scaring Away Foreign Tourists

China's Bad Air Scaring Away Foreign Tourists
Jan 20, 2015 Translated by

Editor’s note: This translated article discusses the effects of China’s immense pollution problems on the tourist industry. Pollution is now a key factor in turning tourists off of going to China and is particularly damaging to the high-end tourism industry although lack of infrastructure is shown to also play a big role in the problem.

China's bad air is scaring foreign tourists away. The country's poor air quality combined with underdeveloped tourist infrastructure has deterred large numbers of foreign tourists from traveling to China in recent years.

The quality of the air in China's urban cities has been criticized by the outside world for some time now. Bad air has not only affected the quality of life of expats working abroad in China, it has also affected the number of potential foreign tourists. Even those who are interested in Chinese culture do not want to come and brave the haze.

On January 13, China's tourism industry released the results of a public opinion survey at the annual meeting of China Travel International. The survey shows that the numbers for inbound tourism to China have continuously declined in recent years. China's international image is the primary factor that has continued to affect the number of inbound tourists. It has been predicted that China's low tourist numbers will continue for the next three years.

Photo: Citylab

"Pollution, the large gap between rich and poor, corruption and issues with law and order along with other factors have led to the decline of China's image," said Chinese Academy of Public Opinion Research Laboratory chief expert Liu Zhiming to Xinhua.

This is not an exaggeration. WildChina founder Zhang Mei lamented that the high-end market for foreign tourists to China has changed dramatically over the past two years. "Because of issues with air pollution, the number of wealthy foreign tourists has decreased by about 15 percent from 2012." WildChina is the leading provider of high-end customized travel services for foreign visitors to China and domestic companies wanting to set up travel within China.

China's high-end tourism market is not fully developed yet. "High-end tourism will always be a niche market. Travelers are extremely wealthy and have certain tastes." Zhang Mei said that Chinese travelers often do not understand the concept of high-end tourism. Therefore, WildChina mainly caters to wealthy foreign clients.

 The combination of bad air and the lack of tourist infrastructure, especially for wealthy travelers, has reduced the number of foreign tourists who wish to travel to China.        

"The New York Times," reported that in 2013 the number of foreign tourists dropped 3.3 percent from 2012. The causes for the drop in travelers include the global economic slowdown, the appreciation of the RMB and reports of China's environmental problems.

The China National Tourism Administration reports that from January to September 2014, 6.5 million travelers entered China for tourism and leisure. This is a decrease of 13.8 percent from last year.

Zhang Mei said that high-end tourism, especially in China, is a difficult industry for two main reasons. One reason is that tourist related facilities are often not well developed. The other reason is that opening up new tourists spots is becoming more and more difficult.

"The first time I organize a trip to a destination I go and take photos of the toilets at all of the attractions for guests to look at. Once, I even organized portable toilets to be placed at a tourist spot," said Zhang Mei. Tourist spots often only have the most basic sanitation facilities and food services in order to meet the needs of guests.

Zhang Mei said that at one well-known tourist attraction in Sichuan, the surrounding hotels only had very basic services mainly meant for Chinese tourists. "They do not have a Western style breakfast and sometimes don't even have coffee," said Zhang Mei.

The fact that there are fewer and fewer good tourist spots in China has also affected the Chinese market. "Our clients are high-end, and therefore our destinations must be both attractive and well developed. We have to find a small group of people and then create a packaged tour," said Zhang Mei. Zhang Mei added that it is easy to advertise new attractions to the public using social media but it is difficult to revamp the infrastructure surrounding well-known attractions


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Keywords: smog in China Bad air scaring away tourists


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Pollution is a big problem for China , that's true

Jul 13, 2015 12:20 Report Abuse



I tried leaving once, but the smog stopped me from finding the airport!

Jan 26, 2015 21:53 Report Abuse



"...While it’s hard to be apart, Giambruno says Beijing’s record air pollution left them no choice. She saw friends’ children develop asthma. Their own daughters, at age 6 and 21 months, were often forced to remain indoors. “It’s not a way to live, to keep your baby inside with an air filter running,” she said...Smog in Beijing was worse than government standards most days last year, and environment ministry statistics show that 71 of 74 Chinese cities failed to meet air-quality standards....We’re starting to see families don’t come,” McGregor said. “In some cases, people are coming without their families and they are cutting a deal to go home more often.” R. Shane McNamara, an American executive who runs a 15-person interior design and construction company in China with his wife, says she is mulling moving her home base to Hong Kong due to the pollution. His wife, who is Chinese, has cut back on work travel because of the bad air, he said. While McNamara says he would stay back on the mainland for the business, he has his own health concerns. At his annual health check up at the Mayo Clinic in the U.S., the doctor told him that “absolutely with that kind of pollution his health would be impacted. Talented people have actually talked to me, and they’ve changed their decision to settle in China because of the air pollution,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a March interview with Bloomberg TV."

Jan 24, 2015 16:10 Report Abuse



I was living in Beijing, the issue is NOT health of Foreigners,,or their money. It is health of Chinese people those making life and money in China,,, I am NZ Chemical Engineer,I think I have effective scientific process to get rid of such smog,,forever. Please let us stop argument,, let us end up prejudge or wasting life in blame game. it is time that everyone must think for good ideas, we not wait till it will be totally dark sky. I live in Australia,, I have business issue in China after 2 weeks,, if any person in charge about pollution, contact me to try my scientific thoughts. I wish best life for China.

Jan 23, 2015 09:57 Report Abuse



Friends around all bought new cars; they were persuaded that "every family must have at least one car. That is the 'memebership standard' of middle-class family." Damn it.

Jan 22, 2015 11:51 Report Abuse



good, no more people come to China (coughing..) i feel like dying slowly in this polluted society (keep coughing..)

Jan 22, 2015 11:48 Report Abuse



Tourists who decided to stay the hell away from China are smart. If you are working for large MNCs and living in heavily polluted cities like Beijing and Shanghai at least negotiate for hardship allowance like those mentioned in this article. Good luck!

Jan 21, 2015 18:56 Report Abuse



Pollution is definitely a big problem in China. There are many occasions that the air just stinks of burned coal and the smell is just unbearable! Another factor adding to the problem is that people just smokes cigarettes indoors whenever they want, in the toilets, in the taxi, in the bus, restaurants, elevators, hotel rooms, hotel lobbies, just everywhere! And the staff just feel embarrassed to tell the guests or people who smokes to stop smoking indoors. The toilets are just filthy that stinks of smoke and pee, and there's no toilet paper, no hand wash liquid, water from the tap is cold, and the hand dyer never works, it's just there for display. Why would tourists come to a place like this?!

Jan 21, 2015 14:12 Report Abuse



At least there's no poo all over the floor like the 1990's.

Jan 21, 2015 16:51 Report Abuse



Apples rot inside out. Outer, environmental pollution is a manifestation of, and sustained by inner, moral pollution. The chinese will never rid their enviornmental pollution problems without riding the deeper causes such as selfishness, ruthless, inner violence, face....etc. What good are laws/technologies when they are executed by money-blinded, greedy, corrupted officials and manufacturers? There are far better ways to spend your money than on touring the land of outer and inner pollutants, which are equally if not far worse. It doesn't take long for rotten apples to disintegrate. How do you know? The skins are peeling off right in front of your eyes, i.e. assuming you aren't blind.

Jan 21, 2015 09:33 Report Abuse



The filth of China is an issue. The rude, obnoxious, selfish & hidden envy agenda issues are another ..

Jan 21, 2015 08:25 Report Abuse



It's not just the air; the water in many areas is quite bad as well. The sewage and infrastructure need upgraded badly in China. The worst part, as some on these posts have already mentioned, is that China has developed some very impressive green technology such as fantastic e-bikes, electric cars, electric buses (Guangzhou has some), solar panels and being that I was a chemistry major in college, I was surprised to find a lot of the chemicals for treating water and air in buildings were made in China as well. China makes the longest lasting batteries in the world for their ebikes, and they also make very good batteries for electric cars and buses. China could easily be a leader in green technology, but for some reason China doesn't use their resources for this. During my time there I saw people throw trash in parks that was potentially hazardous such as old batteries, detergents and petrochemicals. I lived in China for over 5 years, and I have always been wondering when this problem will be taken seriously?

Jan 20, 2015 16:36 Report Abuse



Pollution is hardly one factor among many, so as usual with Chinese press: lie or excuse, that is the question. Tourism industry in China is yet another milking factory that charges a lot for hardly any delivery. Most spots are either run by greedy developers, or greedy dumb locals. Or by greedy developers with greedy locals waiting for you at the corner, like Hainan, which now is obviously going nowhere. Nature is hardly ever nature, food is hardly ever food, relaxing is hardly ever relaxing, and culture is surely never culture. Exceptions exist, of course, but as an international tourist, I'm not going to bother looking when I've got Korea, Japan, Taiwan around for modernity, North Korea for the orwellian vibe, and Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia for the tropical scent at reach. For way cheaper. And visa free. And bullshit free. And with civilized locals. And with breathable air. Oh, I almost forgot, I'm sure your "high-end packages" may provide a range of enjoyable stuff, problem is that what you think is luxury, the rest of the world sees as a standard. Starting to grasp the problem? No? Doesn't matter you never really had a shot anyway.

Jan 20, 2015 14:27 Report Abuse



Well, now that officials are being brought back from Western countries and not allowed to just jump ship when they crap in the bed... MAYBE they will start thinking about a greener and less corrupted China for the sake of their grandchildren. People start to think differently when they realize they HAVE to live in the mess they created.

Jan 20, 2015 14:10 Report Abuse



"The China National Tourism Administration reports that from January to September 2014, 650 million travelers entered China for tourism and leisure." 650 million??? Really?? From where? That's the whole population of Western Europe and North America combined. And considering France, in 2011, was the most visited country in the world with around 85 million tourists that year, tourism in China must have really taken off since then!

Jan 20, 2015 13:58 Report Abuse



The horrid pollution is scaring away far more than tourists! Half of my expat colleagues left China last year with no intention to ever return and China's emigration rate is steadily increasing. Forget the band aids - we need a cure! The Chinese government needs to shut down the coal plants and give some serious rebates to people who buy electric cars. Factories should pay a $10,000 fine per every minute of emission discharge. Every university student should find a place to plant a tree and the price of gasoline should be doubled. A 20% green tax on autos, cigarettes, and fireworks is another idea. This will solve the pollution problem fairly quick.

Jan 20, 2015 13:55 Report Abuse



Pollution is a big problem for China , that's true

Jan 20, 2015 12:14 Report Abuse



Rubbish article! Difficulty obtaining visas, rude Chinese tourists, a poor international image, lack of international amenities and feelings of resentment towards foreigners and foreign companies are what's keeping tourists away. It's very easy for China to blame everything on the pollution without looking at the real reasons behind the dwindling tourist figures. Pollution is hardly even an issue in my opinion. But I guess this is translated from a Chinese sourse so I shouldn't expect the truth.

Jan 20, 2015 11:31 Report Abuse



Pollution is currently the biggest problem in China. The government need to take immediate action against it.

Jan 20, 2015 09:54 Report Abuse



of air, water, food and morals

Jan 20, 2015 10:25 Report Abuse



Even if action is taken seriously right now, it will need years before the effect are seen. 70% of electricity is made with coal : you don't replace 70% of your electric production in one year. Most buildings are not insulated, pushing electric usage high (for air-con) : you won't insulate all the buildings of China in a single year. And who will pay for it, anyway ? Then, you have applying air pollution regulation : you need rule of law for this.

Jan 20, 2015 11:47 Report Abuse



My city banned barbecue - thinking that this will fix the pollution problem. Yeah... it's barbecue that's blocking out the sun.

Jan 21, 2015 00:48 Report Abuse



A lot of Westerners have reached the realization that Jesus was not the son of god, and that they were wrong for the past two thousand years. Now it's China's turn with Confucius....

Jan 21, 2015 18:18 Report Abuse



yes, morals and values

Jan 22, 2015 12:04 Report Abuse