Pollution isn’t the only thing killing tourism in Beijing

The Forbidden City, mostly obscured by smog.
The Forbidden City, mostly obscured by smog.
Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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Tourism to China’s capital, home of the Forbidden City and springboard to the country’s most-visited attraction, the Great Wall, is plummeting. The overall number of tourists coming to Beijing in the first 11 months of 2013 dropped by more than 10% to 4.2 million from a year earlier, according to official figures; foreign tourist visits fell by 11%.

Any drop is sure to hurt the city, which is already suffering the economic fallout of the Communist Party’s crackdown on excess spending. In 2012, over 5 million foreign tourists contributed $5.1 billion in foreign exchange revenues to Beijing’s economy, and new visa-free immigration rules for short visits passed in Dec. 2012 were expected to make tourism a “strategic pillar of the economy.”  Along with the rest of China, Beijing has seen a huge buildup of luxury hotels in recent years, many of which opened for business in 2013.

Beijing’s tourism commission blamed a “weak global economy,” the strong yuan and pollution for 2013’s drop, China Daily reported, and pollution in Beijing has indeed been dismal, reaching hazardous levels for huge swathes of 2013, maxing out air quality indexes in January and again at the end of December.

But the 19.6% plummet in tourists from Asia excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, suggests another factor: Heightened tensions over China’s recent attempts to assert greater influence over the East and South China Seas. Relations with Japan have been particularly dicey, and more Japanese tourists have ditched their trips to Beijing than those of any other country by far.

Image for article titled Pollution isn’t the only thing killing tourism in Beijing

On the other hand, tourists to Beijing from the United States dropped just 1.1% in the first 11 months of 2013, and the drop from Europe was just 6%.

Jennifer Chiu contributed reporting.