Asia Briefing: Beijing smog fouls plans for growth in capital’s overseas tourism

Smog around Tiananmen Square, Beijing: pollution is starting to eat into tourism income as the number of visitors to China’s capital declined by a hefty 50 per cent in the first three quarters of the year compared to a year earlier. photograph: kim kyung-hoon/reuters

Smog around Tiananmen Square, Beijing: pollution is starting to eat into tourism income as the number of visitors to China’s capital declined by a hefty 50 per cent in the first three quarters of the year compared to a year earlier. photograph: kim kyung-hoon/reuters

 

The weather is changing in Beijing as the short autumn turns quickly to winter and temperatures plummet. The heating is turned on, the authorities crank up the coal-fired power stations, and the air gets bad.

This is the familiar scenario and one that anyone living in Beijing is well aware of. But while unhappiness is growing with the situation, pressure from within is unlikely to do anything to resolve the situation.

However, increasingly it’s looking like Beijing residents aren’t the only ones turned off by the foul smog in the sky – it’s starting to eat into tourism incomes.

The number of visitors to China’s capital declined by a hefty 50 per cent in the first three quarters of the year compared to a year earlier, according to a report in Beijing Youth Daily based on a survey of domestic travel agents.

A lot of tourists are deterred by the strength of the yuan currency of course, but increasingly it seems that clouds of smog around the Forbidden City and the Great Wall are turning off visitors from overseas.

At the 2013 Beijing Tourism Working Meeting, the director of the municipal tourism development committee Lu Yong blamed the decline on the global economic slowdown, yuan appreciation and, increasingly, severe pollution.

The Beijing Youth Daily report blames overseas media for hyping up the problem, but other media outlets such as Beijing Today said pollution problems were reported widely in both domestic and overseas media.

Five groups
“We received only five groups of foreign tourists in the first half of this year,” Xu Jianhua, an agent at Sunshine Travel Agency, told local media, compared to last year when the company received more than 50 groups in the same period.

Last month the city introduced an emergency plan to tackle air pollution, including provisions to alternate driving days for cars with even and odd number plates after three days of “serious” pollution.

Yet whatever about international travellers, the domestic tourism sector continues to boom. The number of domestic tourists to Beijing broke 100 million in the first half of the year, a 7.2 per cent increase since last year.

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