January 22, 2010 07:26
The number of tourists visiting Asia has been increasing rapidly, from 44 million in 1990 to 120 million in 2001 and 200 million in 2008. While the world's top tourist destination France saw its number of tourists rise by just 5.7 percent between 2003 and 2008, countries in Asia reported massive increases during the same period, including Macau (129 percent), Hong Kong (89 percent), and Singapore (65 percent).
Tourists from all around the world are showing a growing preference for Asia where they can experience diverse cultural and natural environments at lower cost than Europe and North America, according to Felix Cruz, president of the ASEAN Tourism Association.
Many Asian countries with growing economic power have been pouring money into various renovation projects. China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand have large projects underway to lure tourists from around the globe. Singapore has invested US$1 billion since 1999, opening a number of museums, theaters, galleries, and concert halls. Last month, China started building the largest maritime park and theme park in Asia in Hengqin Dao, Zhuhai, near Macau. China aims to be the world's largest tourism hub by developing Zhuahi alongside Hong Kong and Macau, which each attracted 30 million tourists last year.
Meanwhile, sales of luxury items such as art, antiques and jewelry are also growing quickly. "Some 160 million Chinese shoppers spend lavishly on luxury goods without hesitation the same way average people buy vegetables," a Chinese media outlet reported recently. China accounted for 25 percent of the global luxury goods market last year, second in the world after the European Union.
However, the gap in luxury sales between Asia and the U.S and Europe is still considerably large. Fine arts auction house Christie's share of the Hong Kong market rose from 4.1 percent to 9.3 percent over the last nine years, but it is still far behind its shares of the New York and London markets, at 38 and 36 percent respectively.
The number of tourists to many Western countries exceeds 20 million each year, including 79 million to France (as of 2008), 58 million to the U.S., and 57 million to Spain. In Asia, tourist numbers remain in the single-digit millions, with the exception of a few countries -- China (53 million), Hong Kong (29 million), Macau (30 million), and Thailand (14 million).
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