BEIJING: The rapid growth in the number of Chinese tourists travelling overseas is leading to a widening gap in the country's net tourism spend, with the nation's inbound tourism rates remaining sluggish.

"A tourism deficit greater than $100bn is a sure thing this year," according to Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy. A new report from his organisation predicts that a total of 116m Chinese will travel overseas during 2014 and will spend $155bn, a 20% increase on the previous year.

The figures are being driven by the country's richer middle class who are seeking more exotic experiences and buying luxury goods in foreign cities. On some estimates there will be 500m trips by Chinese tourists in 2020, changing the pattern of the global travel and tourism industry

Chinese tourists can now travel to 151 countries, many of which will be keen to welcome high-spending visitors. On his recent trip to India, President Xi Jingping signed agreements covering a wide range of areas including tourism, and India is now preparing to launch a tourism promotion campaign in Chinese media.

There is currently little traffic between the two countries. In 2012, around 600,000 Indians visited China for business, tourism and study, while only 140,000 Chinese went in the opposite direction.

The chances of boosting those numbers may, however, be helped by the unlikely source of French criminals. Paris is a magnet for Chinese tourists, attracting almost 1m last year, but, the New York Times reported, there is growing sense of disillusionment as they are being targeted by thieves and muggers. The situation has become so bad that at one point the Chinese government considered sending police officers to Paris to help protect them.

During 2014, the number of Chinese tour groups coming to the city has fallen 20% compared to 2013, the report added.

Data sourced from China Daily, Huffington Post, FirstBiz, New York Times; additional content by Warc staff