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CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS - Dr Adam Wu (left), CEO of China Business Network and Jamaica Tourist Board China representative, and David Shields, vice-president, sales of Island Routes at the Sichuan International Travel Expo, Leshan City, China in 2016.

China's exploding outbound travel and Ja's position for growth

David L. Shields, Contributor

At the staging of the 2017 China Outbound Travel & Tourism (COTTM) show, one of the largest outbound travel trade events in China, there was celebration in Beijing that the country had surpassed the 135 million mark for outbound travellers.

The COTTM is held annually and has been one of the leading outbound travel shows to influence this growth over the years with many countries, like Jamaica, actively promoting to the affluent Chinese travel market.

The global forecast for outbound tourism presents a very positive outlook with world outbound travel projected to be between four per cent and five per cent for 2017. Asia, and in particular China, is expected to play an important role in that growth, with the Chinese already taking more international trips this year.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, there was a six per cent growth in outbound travel from China to 135 million in 2016, placing the country as the world's leading outbound market. International tourism expenditure by Chinese nationals also had a strong increase of 12 per cent to US$261 billion, making China the undisputed leading source market for tourist globally since 2012.

It is important to note that this growth is being achieved in an environment where only four per cent of the Chinese population owns a passport, compared with 37 per cent of Americans.

Jamaica welcomed 3,899 Chinese visitors in 2016 which was a 4.1 per cent increase over the 2015 arrivals. The 2016 arrivals represented a 61.1 per cent over the 2013 numbers of 2,420, which, while small numbers, reflect an annual increase each year since 2007 (except for a decline in 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics).

For the first six calendar months of 2017 (to June), Jamaica has received 2,217 Chinese visitors which is a 12.7 per cent increase in Chinese arrivals. At this pace we could end the year at over 4,500 arrivals, again small given the global experience, but this is an indication of the vast potential that remains possible for Jamaica.

With friendly relations and a policy framework which supports the government of the People's Republic of China, Jamaica has been leading the Caribbean region in the development of the programmes and structures necessary to benefit from the explosive growth in outbound travel. However, even with the Chinese increase in travel globally, Jamaica and our Caribbean neighbours continue to lag in terms of numbers of Chinese arrivals.

significant turning point

Jamaica's hosting in February 2005 of the First China/Caribbean Economic & Trade Cooperation Forum marked a significant turning point, not only in terms of bilateral relationship with the People's Republic of China, but significantly in the promotion of tourism between China and the Caribbean. This historic event, and the related negotiations, validated the push by China to open the opportunities for expansion of China's outbound travel, especially to the Caribbean.

At the 2005 event in Kingston, Jamaica joined its Caribbean neighbours, who had diplomatic ties with China, for the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese National Tourism Administration to facilitate the development of outbound travel of Chinese nationals to Jamaica, under the approved destination status (ADS). Countries that did not have the ADS Agreement in place were restricted for visits by Chinese citizens, and those countries were not allowed to promote their destinations to the Chinese or within China. Chinese nationals visiting non-ADS destinations were limited to business and official travel only.

Immediately after the granting of the ADS designation in 2005, Jamaica moved immediately to satisfy the requirements for travel by establishing key relationships and educating the Chinese-approved outbound tour operators about Jamaica and travel to the destination. We also ensured that the receptive entities here were prepared to welcome the new visitors. A visa-issuing mechanism was agreed with the various state agencies (Immigration, Ministries of National Security and Foreign Affairs) consistent with the understanding of the ADS. Today, over 147 countries are signatories of ADS, thereby driving the explosive growth in outbound travel from China and making for a very open environment for travel promotions in China.

David Shields is a former deputy director of tourism with responsibility for marketing. 

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