Monday, April 11, 2011

China Rises

Adios Spain. China is now the third most popular country in the world for tourists, according to World Tourism Organization. France still tops the list, with the USA again in second, but China has now bumped Spain off its long-held third-place pedestal.

The Shanghai Expo and Asian Games are being cited for the substantive increase in tourism that China saw in 2010 (when the country welcomed 55.66 million visitors, an uptick of nearly 10 percent). But I'm guessing that the Chinese government's policy of purposefully undervaluing its currency is also drawing visitors. Those little tricks the bigwigs play with the exchange rate not only help exports, but help tourists make their travel yuans go a heckuva lot further than they really should.

Independent travel is always the most affordable mode of travel, what with decent hotel rooms in the major cities going for as little as $30-$40 a night. But those nervous about confronting the language barrier are finding that fully guided tours are less expensive here, in general, than in any other country.

Some examples:

Beijing, Xian, Shanghai: $1363
That price includes not only all sightseeing, tours, hotel stays, breakfasts (and lunch and dinner on half the days of the tour), but also flights, both Trans-Pacific and within China. So tour is a ten-nighter, meaning you pay just a bit over $130 a day to see the famed Terra Cotta Warriors (in Xian), the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and much more. For information, go to the website of China Spree Tours. The price I'm quoting here is with a $700 discount, available to those who book by April 15. 

Beijing, Suzhou, Tongli, Shanghai: $999
A cheaper tour because it uses trains and buses for transportation within China rather than planes (though it does cover air from San Francisco) this 9-day trip includes breakfast and lunch on all days but one, guided tours for a wide variety of sites and topnotch hotels. It comes from China Spree's major competitor China Focus Travel. In the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that my mother took this tour several years ago and loved it.

Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Yichang, Three Gorges, Yanghuo, Hong Kong: $1699
With this one you'll spend a whopping 18 days in China, seeing the country by train, boat and bus. Airfare is not included on this one, nor are meals, but it remains a value simply because of the breadth of the trip. GAP Adventures is behind this one, and has a number of other itineraries on offer as well. 

These are just a few of the options out there. Also be sure to check out the tours offered by Intrepid Travel, Ritz Tours, Wendy Wus Tours and ChinaTour, especially if you're interested in private or more customized trips.

And if you notice that more of your fellow travelers in all parts of the globe are from China, its not your imagination. There will be more Chinese travelers in 2011 than Germans!

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