As China moves away from its traditional export- and investment-led growth model, it plans to turn the tourism sector into a strategic pillar of the economy, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has told a global tourism conference.
Over the next five years, the country hopes to use tourism to lift 12 million people out of poverty, he said yesterday in his opening address to the inaugural World Conference on Tourism for Development, held in Beijing.
"There is great potential for tourism, and the government will take a series of policy steps to build up the sector and turn it into a strategic pillar of the economy... This will be an important source of growth for the economy as it shifts to other growth drivers," Mr Li said.
China is seeking a transition to consumption-led growth as the economy slows.
Not only has tourism proved resilient amid a lacklustre global economic environment, but it can also help to spur entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation, Mr Li said.
Jointly organised by the Chinese government and United Nations agency the World Tourism Organisation, the three-day conference brings together representatives of about 110 countries to look at how tourism can contribute to peace and development.
As China works towards the goal of establishing a "moderately prosperous society" by 2020, rural tourism is one area that can be tapped to tackle poverty in remote villages, Mr Li said. The goal refers to a doubling of gross domestic product and per capita income from 2010 levels.
According to official data, China still has some 70 million rural poor who survive on less than 2,300 yuan (S$485) a year by 2010 price standards.
Mr Chen Min'er, party secretary in Guizhou, one of China's poorest provinces, pointed out that while tourism is beneficial to headline economic growth, ensuring that its dividends are channelled to poverty relief requires concerted efforts.
"But tourism also helps drive the development of many other service sectors, and these provide revenue for the government. This allows for a redistribution of funds to the poorer people," he said.
Mr Chen was speaking at a panel yesterday on tourism for poverty reduction. Party bosses from Guangxi and Yunnan, also among the poorest provinces, shared their views at other panel sessions.
China's tourism sector, however, is already gaining speed. More than four billion domestic trips were taken last year with outbound tourist visits reaching 120 million, up 12 per cent from 2014.
Yesterday, officials from countries including Malaysia, Kenya and the United States also weighed in on issues such as the challenges the industry faces and its role in sustainable development.
Ms Isabel Hill, director of the US Commerce Department's National Travel and Tourism Office, said ensuring that safety and security concerns do not impede the progress being made in global travel is one such challenge.
The conference, which is being held in conjunction with the G-20 tourism ministers' meeting today, also adopted a "Beijing Declaration". The non-binding document cites Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, which improves connectivity along the ancient Silk Route, as a way that the region's tourism industry can be supported.