Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2020, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (3): 487-507.doi: 10.1007/s11442-020-1739-2

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The changes in the geographical patterns of China’s tourism in 1978-2018: Characteristics and underlying factors

ZHANG Chengming1,3, WENG Shixiu1,3, BAO Jigang2,3,*()   

  1. 1. School of Geography and Planning, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
    2. School of Tourism Management, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
    3. Center for Tourism Planning & Research, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
  • Received:2019-08-10 Accepted:2019-09-30 Online:2020-03-25 Published:2020-05-25
  • Contact: BAO Jigang
  • About author:Zhang Chengming (1989–), PhD Candidate, specialized in elite landscape and tourism destination evolution. E-mail:;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(No.41571137)


Since the reform and opening-up policy launched in 1978, the number of inbound tourists increased from 1.8 million in 1978 to 139.5 million in 2017, and that of domestic tourists increased from 344 million in 1991 to 5 billion in 2017. This article conducts research on how the geographical pattern of China’s tourism has evolved in the last four decades on the national-scale and regional-scale, for rare studies before could focus on such an extended date and utilize inbound and domestic tourism data simultaneously. Grounded on viable datasets and multiple vibrant data analysis approaches (including the Gini coefficient, primacy index analysis, hot spot analysis and Pearson correlation analysis), this article unpacks triple vital realities. (1) The overall geographical pattern of China’s tourism development can arguably summarize as “high in the eastern and low in the western part, high in the southern and low in the northern part.” Meanwhile, China’s inbound tourism has long shown a pattern of polarized distribution; While, domestic tourism has experienced a shift from the polarized distribution to the equilibrium distribution. (2) According to the features and characteristics, China's tourism development can be divided into four stages. They are precisely the initial modern tourism stage (1978-1988), the domestic tourism cultivating stage (1989-1996), the rapid development stage (1997-2007) and the new normal stage (2008-present). (3) This article also identified multiple factors underlying the inbound and domestic tourism development in China, including policies, management systems, tourism demand, tourist attractions, economic level, consumption level, industrial development, investment status, traffic conditions, accommodation services, intermediary services and degree of openness.

Key words: reform and opening-up, tourism development, spatial pattern, development stage, influencing factor, China