HONG KONG: Popular international travel destinations have been warned to brace themselves for a huge rise in the number of Chinese tourists over the next few years.

Tourism industry observers have told the South China Morning Post that China's increasing wealth and cultural power will lead to major expansion, which the Chinese government is preparing for, but it's not clear whether the rest of the world is developing the capacity to deal with the expected numbers.

Delegates at last month's World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Hainan were informed that Chinese outbound tourism will exceed 500m trips in the next five years and that China will overtake the US to become the world's largest tourism economy by 2023.

Speaking at the summit, vice-premier Wang Yang announced a six-point plan to boost Chinese tourism, including improvements to consular protection of Chinese citizens abroad and reciprocal negotiations to relax visa restrictions.

A major upgrade of travel infrastructure and airport expansion will also take place, he said, which should help to improve flight punctuality from Beijing and other major airports.

Chen Feng, chairman of Hainan-based air transport company HNA Group, predicted that Chinese tourism will have a huge impact on the world and will "change the pattern of the global travel and tourism industry".

Xiao Qianhui, general manager of the Shanghai Spring International Travel Service Group, also agreed that tourism is still growing despite a slowdown in the overall economy.

With the number of individual overseas trips by Chinese travellers expected to double to 200m by 2020, according to analysis from local researchers CLSA, it seems the question for foreign countries is whether they will have the necessary infrastructure in place to cope with demand.

Data sourced from South China Morning Post, World Travel and Tourism Council; additional content by Warc staff