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China to become 'world's top tourist spot'

China tourism
Girls in ethnic-Tibetan costume strike a pose along a street in the mythical Chinese land of Shangri-la, formerly named Zhongdian

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YINCHUAN, China -- China is poised to dominate the tourism industry in the year 2020 by becoming the world's largest tourism destination and the fourth major source of travelers, the country's National Tourism Administration predicted.

Gu Chaoxi, deputy director of the National Tourism Administration (NTA), said China has maintained a near double-digit growth in both overseas tourist arrivals and tourism revenue over the past two decades.

"This was unprecedented in the world. If the country kept up such a momentum, it was sure to be the world's leading tourist destination in 2020," Gu was quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency as saying.

Gu's claim was supported by the World Tourism Organization, which acknowledged China's potential to become one of the largest tourism leaders in the world.

"The rapid development of China's tourism during the past decade has exceeded global expectations. The country led Asia in overseas tourist arrivals last year," World Tourism Organization's Emi Maccoll was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Maccoll was speaking during the World Tourism Day event held in Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

In 2001 alone, China's income from international tourists reached $17.8 billion, up 9.7 percent from 2000, ranking fifth in profits from tourism after the United States, Spain, France and Italy, and surpassing Britain and Germany.

Relaxed rules

Meanwhile, China's domestic tourist income in 2001 exceeded 352.2 billion yuan ($42.4 billion), up 10.9 percent from 2000, the Xinhua report added.

To maintain the momentum, Zhang Jianzhong, another NTA official, called for relaxed rules to allow more investment from non-state sectors and foreign companies.

China has opened up its tourism sector to foreign competition, including allowing overseas operators to hold majority stakes in joint ventures or set up solely owned businesses.

The country is also set to gradually phase out regional restrictions on foreign operators, simplify procedures for approving foreign-invested projects, and bring the regulatory system into line with international practice, the Xinhua report said.

However, poor infrastructure at some popular scenic destinations could put a damper on China's tourism growth, said Song Chaoqi, vice-president of the China Tourism Association.

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