The number of tourists traveling to Beijing, China’s capital, in the first three quarters of this year has dropped by roughly 50%.  The main reason cited for this drastic decrease in tourism is poor air quality.  In 2010, it was reported that air pollution contributed to 1.2 million deaths in China.  Additionally, China spends a staggering 6% of its annual GDP on health care costs, material damages, and premature deaths caused by air pollution.  China must do something to combat this serious issue or risk losing more than just tourists.

Beijing’s pollution problem attracted a lot of attention in January when levels of particulate matter in the air rose to almost 40 times World Health Organization limits.  In early October, the municipal government of Beijing enacted an emergency-response plan that aims to curb the effects of hazardous air pollution.  The plan includes alternate driving days for cars with even and odd numbered license plates, reducing nearby industrial production, halting construction, and prohibiting fireworks when the air-quality index is above 300 on a scale that tops out at 500.  These measures will undoubtedly reduce air pollution; the question is by how much?  Some believe that the level of air pollution required to activate these measures has been set too high and will result in the new policy coming into play only a couple of times a year. 

Two other factors contributing to a decline in the number of tourists are tensions between Japan and China and the lingering effects of the European debt crisis.  A recent territorial dispute between Japan and China in the East China Sea has reduced the number of Japanese tourists by around 55% in the first half of 2013.  The number of foreign tourists from European countries has also declined and this has been attributed largely to the financial and economic struggles from which many European nations are still recovering.

Although the number of tourists is down, revenue from the tourism industry is still increasing in China.  This is due to the rising incomes of Chinese citizens and their willingness to spend increasing amounts of money on leisure activities.  This however should not take away from the serious pollution problem that China needs to confront.  Currently, China burns almost half of the world’s coal and consumption is estimated to double by 2040.  Chinese urban dwellers are leaving the big cities in order to escape the toxic smog that has blanketed cities like Beijing.  If this exodus from China’s mega-cities continues, other industries besides tourism may suffer.  A declining work force for businesses located in big cities could limit growth and global competitiveness for these firms.

What would you recommend China do to combat its air pollution problem?  Feel free to leave a comment below!

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