A week ago, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) was officially dissolved and absorbed into a new, larger state body, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MTC). Officially, the aim is “coordinating the development of cultural and tourism industries, enhancing the country’s soft power and cultural influence, and promoting cultural exchanges internationally.”

The China National Tourism Administration has been dissolved and absorbed into the new, Ministry of Tourism and Culture

This move was not wholly unexpected, and some analysts had predicted for some time that the CNTA would be dissolved. The announcement nonetheless emphasizes the role of tourism in China’s larger foreign policy objectives. The new Ministry of Tourism and Culture was formed via a joining of both the Ministry of Culture (MOC) and the CNTA.

While ostensibly a ministry focused on the domestic sphere, the MOC also served as means of promoting “Chinese culture” abroad and promoting Chinese soft power, along with censoring and policing the production and distribution of artistic works at home. In this sense, the combining of the CNTA and the MOC is a logical move that cements the roles of tourism and “culture” as means to achieve Chinese state political and social influence at home and around the world. Rather than a demotion, the new MTC represents the elevation of tourism to “ministerial” status, placing tourism on the same level of importance as managing and controlling China’s cultural discourse.

The new state body cements the importance of tourism for the Chinese government by giving it “ministerial” status

However, this latest development is also a reflection on the changing nature of Chinese travel itself. Chinese domestic tourism is, unsurprisingly, more important economically than Chinese outbound tourism in terms of spending ($720 billion in domestic tourism spending vs. $115.29 billion in outbound spending). Nonetheless, the announcement places more emphasis on the international importance of tourism in regards to overall state goals than that of the development of the domestic tourism industry and firms.

In this sense, the State Council recognizes the increasingly internationalized nature of not only Chinese travel, but also Chinese travel companies. For Chinese airlines, online travel agencies (OTAs), and tech companies, facilitating travel by Chinese citizens is still front and center. However, Chinese firms that are stakeholders in the tourism industry are also making more substantial efforts to reach out to non-Chinese consumers, just as an increasingly large number of Western firms are attempting to tap into the revenue of Chinese outbound travel.

The most obvious example is of course Ctrip. While Ctrip’s eponymous platform is by far the most the most dominant force in the digital landscape of Chinese travel booking, the company has also made inroads into tapping into Western and Asian outbound travel via its purchase of Skyscanner and the establishment of the Trip.com platform, both almost exclusively catering to non-Chinese travelers.

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