China's 2018 tourism revenue growth slowest in a decade as economy cools

People look at hot air balloons decorating a plaza, during a tourism event in Qianxinan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou province, China October 14, 2018. China Daily via REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - Growth in China’s tourism revenue fell to its lowest level last year since the global financial crisis a decade ago, official data showed on Tuesday, highlighting growing risk in a fast-growing sector as Chinese consumers became more cautious.

Overall tourism earnings grew 10.5 percent in 2018 from a year earlier to 5.97 trillion yuan ($881.49 billion), decelerating from 2017’s 15.1 percent gain and marking its slowest pace of growth since 2008, when it was just 5.8 percent, data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism showed.

China has rolled out a flurry of stimulus measures since late 2018 to spur consumption from cars to home appliances amid a broader economic slowdown, as it tackles financial risk at home and navigates a trade war with the United States.

But many analysts still expect household spending to remain weak despite policy support. Consumption growth in China is “very likely” to slow further this year as the economy cools, the commerce ministry said on Tuesday.

“We believe household consumption will likely be sluggish, given the quick build-up of household debt, the lackluster income growth outlook amid the economic slowdown and the cooling property sector,” analysts from Nomura wrote in a note on Monday.

Revenue from tourism accounted for about 11 percent of GDP in 2018, the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

Despite the slowdown in domestic tourism spending, more Chinese are opting for international travel, continuing a trend that has made Chinese the world’s biggest spenders on international tourism.

In 2018, Chinese people made 149 million international tourist trips, up 14.7 percent from a year earlier, when growth was less than half, the ministry added.

Reporting by Yawen Chen and Kevin Yao; Editing by Nick Macfie