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2018 China Inbound Tourism Report: When and Where to Go Last updated on 2019-01-08

2018 China Inbound Tourism Report: When and Where to Go

Over the past year, The China Guide has organized custom private tours in China for thousands of travelers from the United States, Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and beyond. As 2019 kicks off, The China Guide is releasing its second annual report on the preferences and popular choices of foreign travelers to China based on the experiences of our clients in 2018.

In this report, we use the data we have collected from the thousands of travelers we served in 2018 to provide some insight into travelers' choices when it comes to visiting China. Following the footsteps of other travelers is a convenient and reliable way to plan your own trip to China, and we hope this report will help people who are considering visiting China craft their own itinerary and save valuable time.

When Is the Popular Time to Travel to China?

Considering the mild weather and pleasant temperatures, spring (March, April, and May) and fall (September and October) are the two most popular seasons for traveling in China. Based on our 2018 data, March through December receive the most visitors, with March, April, May, July, September, and October being especially popular months for setting off on a trip to China. January and February are the two lowest months in terms of visitors, with only 6% of travelers choosing these two months to start their trips to China.

When Is the Popular Time to Travel to China?

There are other factors besides weather that are worth considering when deciding when to travel to China, such as public holidays and school breaks. If you want to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of visiting China in different months/seasons, please read our suggestions concerning the best and worst times to travel in China here.

Where to Go When Traveling in China?

In 2018, 82% percent of our travelers visited Beijing during their trip to China. This is understandable, as Beijing is widely considered the main gateway to China, both geographically and culturally, and is home to two of the best-known attractions that China has to offer: the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

Being another major city and the financial capital of the country, Shanghai attracted 31% of our travelers. Another popular destination was the ancient city of Xi'an, site of of the world-famous Terracotta Army, which 27% of our travelers visited in 2018.

Guilin/Yangshuo, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Chengdu, and Zhangjiajie made up the second tier of popular destinations among foreign travelers to China. The Guilin/Yangshuo area is particularly well-known for its beautiful natural scenery.

Top Destinations for Foreign Travelers to China in 2018

The third-tier destinations include Huangshan, Pingyao, Luoyang, the Yangtze River, Guangzhou, Datong, Yunnan, and Tibet. While less popular, these destinations are still a good choice if you have a particular interest in visiting them, or if you want to visit more off-the-beaten-path sites. Because of their remote geographical location and the difficulty of access, as well as demanding more time and costs, Yunnan and Tibet did not receive many visitors, despite being well known among travelers.

Most Popular Itineraries and Average Trip Length

In 2018, 49.8% of our travelers visited Beijing as their sole destination. Considering that not many people would buy an international flight to China to spend only a couple of days visiting just one city, this figure is likely due to the many layover/transit passengers or business travelers who take one or two days off during their trip to do some sightseeing. Our travelers spent an average of 2.3 days in Beijing in 2018.

Most Popular Itineraries and Average Trip Length

Being another entry point to China for foreigners, Shanghai also attracts many layover/transit passengers or business travelers who take a couple days off during their trip to sightsee.

Most people who travel to two or more cities are vacation travelers. For these travelers, Beijing-Xi'an, Beijing-Shanghai, Beijing-Xi'an-Shanghai, and Beijing-Xi'an-Shanghai-Guilin/Yangshuo were the four most popular itineraries. In particular, the Beijing-Xi'an-Shanghai itinerary, also known as the "Golden Triangle of China," was enjoyed by 4.7% of our travelers over an average period of 8.2 days, making this a great (and popular) choice for first-time travelers to China.

Outside of these popular routes, our other travelers chose a diverse array of itineraries. If you are coming to China for a second time or if you have allotted several days for your trip, you can add other destinations to your itinerary based on your personal interests.

When to Book a Trip to China?

According to our statistics, the longer a trip is, the longer in advance travelers book their tour. This is understandable, since a long tour requires more planning and preparation time.

Based on our 2018 statistics people book a 1 to 3-day tour an average of 29 days in advance, a 4 to 7-day tour an average of 55 days in advance, 8 or more day tour an average of 81 days in advance.

In our experience, booking a tour early means you will have more choices when choosing hotel rooms, guides, cars, and other services, and can also help save you some money.



We hope this information is helpful for those considering a trip to China. If you’d like to learn more about China travel trends over time, we encourage you to read our 2017 report here as well.

The China Guide is a Beijing-based travel agency. We have more than ten years of experience customizing private tours for travelers to China. In 2018, we customized private tours around China for thousands of travelers from the United States, Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and beyond.


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