BEIJING (AFP) - Nearly 100 million Chinese tourists visited foreign countries last year, and they are likely to extend their lead as the world's biggest-spending travellers, state media reported on Thursday.
A total of 97 million Chinese tourists left the country in 2013, up 14 million from the previous year, the state-run China Daily reported, citing official data from China's National Tourism Administration.
The figures underline the rapid rise in the numbers of Chinese travelling abroad, who numbered just 29 million in 2004.
Chinese travellers spent US$102 billion (S$130 billion) overseas in 2012, making them the world's biggest spenders ahead of Germans and US tourists, and are almost certain to have surpassed that record last year, the report said, citing researcher Song Rui.
China's economy has boomed over the past decade, expanding the ranks of its middle-class who are hungry for foreign travel after the country's decades of isolation in the last century.
European Union and Asian countries have moved to ease visa application procedures for Chinese tourists in recent years, keen to cash in on their big-spending habits.
"Chinese tourists spend so much abroad that some foreigners are calling us 'walking wallets'," Mr Song, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying.
Hotels and retailers around the world have stepped up efforts to woo Chinese visitors.
London's renowned Harrods department store says it now has 70 Mandarin-speaking staff and more than 100 China Unionpay terminals allowing direct payment from Chinese bank accounts.