These countries are the most popular destinations for young Chinese tourists

From the hustle of urban life to the eerie quiet of historic ruins, sandy seashore to inland meadow, young Chinese tourists are finding their way to diverse destinations.

A recent study by the National Bureau of Statistics of China found the past decade’s most popular destinations for Chinese tourists under the age of 24, displayed on the map below.

Some countries stand out more than others — most notably South Korea and Russia. In the past 10 years, South Korea received 5,163,000 Chinese tourists, while Russia had 3,895,000. Besides the fact that they’re both geographically close to China, other factors are drawing tourists to these countries.

Shengming Wu, a 23-year-old Chinese man, visited South Korea more than seven times in the past year. He is more task-oriented than other visitors, who wander on the streets with selfie sticks. He rushes to duty-free stores, picks up the goods on his list, wraps them up and takes them back to China. That’s the beginning, middle and end of his Seoul trip.

Wu is a full-time overseas purchasing agent in China. The overseas purchasing career has grown because of the high tariff and added tax on importing goods to China. Luxury goods like jewelry will see extra taxes between 9 percent and 17 percent in China. Because of this, a growing number of luxury buyers prefer to use overseas purchasing agents. Those agents purchase items abroad in the name of private merchants to evade tariffs and other taxes, and take a commission from their clients.

South Korea’s proximity to China, cheap flights, a simple visa process and lower tariffs on imported luxuries all contribute to making it a popular destination for overseas purchasing agents, boosting the tourist population.

Beside business, “a lot of young people come to Korea to feel being in drama sceneries,” Wu said. “South Korea’s strategy of exporting K-pop culture is just so smart.” Exquisite makeup, gorgeous characters, delicate food and picturesque landscapes shown in Korean dramas are other elements that drive young people to visit.

Apart from short trips, a great number of young people go to another popular destination, Russia, to study. “The cost in Russia is much lower than that in The U.S. or other European countries,” said Shiyao Yan, who was once an exchange student in Russia.

Even in main cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg, expenses won’t exceed $20,000 per year — and that’s including tuition fees and living cost. Due to China and Russia’s connection through history as socialist countries, Russia gives many scholarships to Chinese students. Prestigious education in fields of art, literature and engineering, meshed with the comparatively low expenses, become the biggest attractions for Chinese students.

Despite the gigantic number of tourists it received in the past 10 years and the advantage of low living costs, Russia is facing a slump in tourism. According to official Russian data, the growth rate of Chinese tourists decreased from 35 percent in 2012 to 5 percent in 2014. The number of young Chinese tourists in 2015 was half of its amount in 2011.

But Russia isn’t standing idly by. In 2012, it started granting free visa entry for visitors in a group tour. In 2015, it opened a Visit Russia office in Shanghai, aiming to promote the country in one of the biggest cities in China and to boost tourism growth. But even without this efforts, there is hope for more tourists in the coming year.

“The Ruble depreciated and people have more willingness to consume there, it may also become a strong reason to refuel the tourists’ increase,” Yan said.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV