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How China’s Approved Destination Status Policy Spurs and Hinders Chinese Travel Abroad

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Chinese tourists can be a real contributor to the global economy and world peace. China needs the world, and the world needs China.

—Zhang Guangrui, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences1

By the end of this decade, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) forecasts that the People’s Republic of China (hereafter referred to as China) will be sending 100 million tourists abroad each year.2 By then, China is expected to be the world’s largest tourist-generating country.

How is that possible? Before 1978, China was pretty much closed to the outside world. Few Chinese citizens were allowed to travel to other countries. Those who did were either businessmen, government officials, or students. Taking a pleasure trip abroad was unthinkable unless it was disguised as a legitimate trip. All that began to change in the 1990s when China adopted a unique tourism policy. China’s Approved Destination Status (ADS) Policy allows overseas pleasure travel by its citizens in tightly controlled groups and only to countries (and territories) approved by the government. Tourist destinations around the world hailed this move. Imagine the world’s most populous country of more than 1.3 billion people spreading its growing wealth around the globe! Lost in the euphoria was the policy’s big limitation: Chinese citizens were not able to go where and how they wanted. In this article, we examine China’s ADS policy.