COTTM 2019 LUXURY TRAVEL SHOWCASE. (File photo: the website of COTTM)
The number of Chinese making trips overseas has soared since the early 1980s.
China's outbound tourism has witnessed great developments since the reform and opening-up policy was adopted in 1978.
Jiang Yiyi, associate researcher at the China Tourism Academy, said the nation's outbound tourism boom began in the early 1980s, but travel was initially limited to mainlanders who wanted to visit relatives in Hong Kong or Macau.
"It was extremely hard to meet the qualifications to visit Hong Kong or Macau back then, because applicants were required to have relatives in the destinations and they also had to submit financial statements to prove they could cover the costs themselves," she said.
Things changed after Hong Kong and Macau were awarded "approved destination status", or ADS, by the China Tourism Administration in 1983. The move allowed mainlanders to visit the two destinations for leisure purposes.
"In 1988, Thailand was awarded ADS, with Malaysia and Singapore following in 1990. That marked the real beginning of outbound tourism for Chinese travelers," Jiang said.
"Outbound tourism has boomed since, but it was really at its peak in 2013 as a result of the nation's rapid economic development and people's growing desire to travel overseas."
A report by the National Bureau of Statistics in September said outbound visits by Chinese travelers hit 135 million in 2016 from 5 million in 1995, and the average annual rise was about 17 percent.
The number of outbound travelers ranked ninth globally in 2003, but the nation has occupied the top slot since 2013.
The tourism administration started keeping records of outbound trips in 1992, and the following year 3.74 million Chinese traveled overseas, according to the Yearbook of China Tourism Statistics.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Chinese made about 142 million trips overseas last year.
About 71 million overseas visits were made in the first six months of this year, a rise of 15 percent from the same period in 2017.
The future of outbound tourism is promising, according to Jiang.
"The reform and opening-up policy has produced a strong economy and raised living standards, meaning more people can afford to travel overseas. Moreover, more preferential visa policies are available," she said.
Online and on message: Lin Zhizhuo
People's views of outbound tourism and ways of booking tour packages have changed in recent decades because of rapid developments in the economy and information technology, according to Lin Zhizhuo, deputy general manager of Ctrip, a popular online travel agency.
"The emergence of the internet greatly affected customers' behavior. They now use social media platforms such as WeChat and Taobao, and online travel service platforms, such as Ctrip," the 35-year-old said.
"In the 1990s, people booked outbound tour packages at brick and mortar travel agencies. The process was time-consuming because the product provider usually called or faxed the hotel and airline ticket supplier to check if the product the traveler had chosen was available."
He added that around the turn of the century, only a few young people reserved flight tickets and hotels for outbound visits online.
"We were recognized as a good choice for these novelty-seeking people and as offbeat by traditional travel agencies as there were few service providers doing business online. But the rapid development of information technology brought us great benefits around 2013, and we saw the number of rivals rise," he said.
Lin recalled that about 20 years ago, most people who booked packages online were in their 30s, with many hoping to spend their honeymoons in foreign destinations. "Things have changed, and now seniors have embraced the internet with a more open mind," he said.
"Traditional travel agencies had limited capacity to receive visitors. Travelers now can get to know everything including flight tickets, hotels, and the attractions of their dream foreign destinations just by tapping their mobile devices whenever and wherever they want."
Ctrip, according to Lin, will offer consultation services both online and in its 1,000 brick and mortar stores in the near future.
Passport police: Zhang Liqun
"In 1988 when I joined the police bureau, no more than 300 residents in the city applied for passports to travel overseas (destinations such as Hong Kong and Macau), and only about 100 required passports for foreign destinations," said Zhang Liqun, a retired police officer from Xuancheng, Anhui province, whose duties included issuing passports.
The 61-year-old said that though the number of applicants was quite small, she and her colleagues were under great pressure.
"The information on passports had to be handwritten, and even the slightest mistake such as misspellings of the applicant's name, birth date or destination would invalidate the document," she said, adding that in the early 1990s, the application procedure was complicated and time-consuming.
"It required dozens of papers including an ID card, household registration forms, assessments of the applicant's work performance by his company, and the police also visited the applicant's home to assess their family and social relationships."
She added that in the late 1980s it usually took about two months to complete the whole process and issue passports to applicants.
"In 1992, I was impressed when a 30-something pregnant woman, whose boyfriend was in Italy, begged us to issue her passport in a very short time because she wanted him to be present at the birth," Zhang recalled.
"But we didn't offer premium processing services back then, so we reported the case to the provincial-level bureau to ask if we could make things more convenient for her. We helped her to get a passport within a month, and were touched that she wept when she received it."
In 1994, Zhang's workload was reduced by the introduction of printed passports, and in 2012, the application process was reduced to about 15 working days.
"Now it only takes about seven working days to get a passport. And people don't have to fill in dozens of forms, they just have to show their ID card," she said, adding that she applied for a passport last month and plans to spend Spring Festival with her son's family in New Zealand.
"I've issued passports to people for 30 years, now it's my turn to get one," she said.
Guiding light: Gao Zhiquan
"I think the nation's modern tourism first made a mark with the successful Beijing Asian Games in the early 1990s," said Gao Zhiquan, a former tour guide for China CYTS Tours who has been the company's vice-president since 2008.
"The sports gala gave Beijing and China recognition in the world and helped attract foreign visitors," the 52-year-old said.
In 1990, the Liaoning province native became a tour guide in Beijing after graduating from Pyongyang University of Construction and Building Materials Industries in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
However, the domestic market was not fully prepared for the surge in foreign tourists because the infrastructure, such as hotels and flights, was immature, Gao said.
"There was such a shortage of hotels of all kinds, let alone star-rated units, that we often scrambled for hotel rooms against rivals, such as China International Travel Services," he recalled.
"Back then, the Yanjing Hotel in Beijing was the most popular, and all the guides were jealous of their peers who successfully booked rooms there.
"It was the same with flights; tickets were in short supply, while planes were often delayed. We guides were never sure about tour schedules because we were only informed that the airline had provided travelers with tickets for flights overseas the night before departure."
Gao, who has been engaged in the tourist industry for nearly 30 years, was still thrilled when he recalled a 1994 trip from Dalian, Liaoning, to Yanji city in Jilin province to accompany a group from the Republic of Korea.
"There were more than 100 people in the group, and the plane, a Tupolev Tu-154, was fully booked, so there were no seats for me or the Korean group leader," he said.
"There were only a handful of flights at the time. You might wait two days for the next flight if you missed your plane, so the Korean group leader and I squatted in the plane's aisle and held on to the seat belts of passengers sitting on either side. It was a breakneck experience."
At the time, outbound tourism was in its infancy compared with the boom in inbound tourism in the early 1990s.
"Delegations authorized by the government were the core of outbound tourism, and countries in Southeast Asia were first choices at the time," he recalled.
"Before 1993, passports were only single-use items, so people had to apply for another if they went abroad again," he said.
Applying for a passport was a headache as it required piles of papers, including the traveler's ID card, household registration details, an invitation from someone in the destination country and financial statements.
"Things have changed now," Gao said.
"The passport application procedure has been greatly simplified, so only an ID card is needed, and passports are valid for 10 years. Traveling overseas is now a regular leisure activity for Chinese people."
Delegates and departures: Tong Xirong
"The first time I went abroad was to Australia as part of a delegation authorized by the Ministry of Justice in 1999," said Tong Xirong, former vice-president of East China University of Political Sciences and Law in Shanghai.
The 68-year-old spent about a month with the delegation, visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
"I was curious about everything at the time, even though I had seen what the country looked like in television programs," he said, laughing. "The fruit in Australia was much more expensive than in Shanghai."
He said that in the 1980s and '90s, policy constraints meant overseas visits were mostly limited to people employed by the government or State-owned institutions, and they were usually for academic purposes or work rather than merely for travel or leisure.
"Back then few people traveled overseas in groups, partly because people didn't have much money and also because there was little awareness of the opportunity to do so," he said. "We did notice some Chinese travelers in Melbourne, but rather a small number."
In 2002, Tong visited Italy and France with a government delegation, and in 2006, he went to Canada and the United States.
"Things were different from 1999. I heard people speaking Chinese all around me when I visited Italy and France, especially in Chinese restaurants," he recalled.
"I felt that China seemed more open as I saw dozens of travel groups at the Palace of Versailles in France."
He noted that overseas travel is now a common experience for the average Chinese, not just a privilege enjoyed by government employees.
After retiring from the university, Tong traveled to Seoul, South Korea, and London, England, with his family.
"Compared with my peers, even younger colleagues, I have visited very few foreign destinations," he said.
"A neighboring couple has traveled to nearly 50 countries since 2000, and younger teachers at our university usually go abroad for vacations, which I never imagined doing when I was their age."
Tong is pleased to see the rapid development of China's economy and tourism.
"My friends who had the chance to go abroad in the early 1980s always talked about how beautiful and modern foreign countries were. That left me with a sense of loss because I believed our nation was backward," he said.
"But now traveling overseas is not a big deal－it's more like dropping by to see the neighbors－and foreign foods such as milk candies and steaks are common in Shanghai."