Performers dressed as Terracotta Warriors perform at the World Travel Market London, an international trade show. (DUAN XUELIAN/CHINA PLUS)
A tourism milestone will be reached next year with an initiative between China and the European Union, said the chief representative of the China National Tourism Administration in the United Kingdom.
China-EU Tourism Year fits well with China's aim to attract more European visitors, said Kuang Lin, who was speaking ahead of the World Travel Market, an international travel trade show running in London until Wednesday.
Kuang said China has become the fourth most popular destination for tourists, drawing around 138 million visits last year, a 3.5 percent rise on the previous year.
In addition to favorite cities like Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Guilin, Kuang said tourists are also now visiting such places as Shangri-La, cruising on the Yangtze River and traveling on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
In 2016, more than 594,000 British tourists visited China, one of the largest groups from among European countries.
"Over the past 15 years, the market has achieved a steady growth of nearly 5 percent per year," said Li Gang, a professor of tourism economics at the University of Surrey. He said he believes the number of British tourists will continue to rise.
James Kennell, principal lecturer in tourism at the University of Greenwich, said China is still a great unknown for potential British visitors.
He suggested China's national tourism agency raises the country's tourism profile by funding television programs, and developing greater travel trade and media awareness of China through public relations efforts, paid-for-content and familiarization trips.
"Hosting large events with an international television audience and making use of celebrity endorsements is vital for a contemporary destination seeking to raise awareness in new markets," he said.
Kuang said the administration is working closely with new media companies to keep building the brand "Beautiful China" and to make China a more popular travel destination.
Peter Ball, a video editor from Guisborough in Northeast England, spent five days in China in 2015, during which he visited the Lijiang River in the south and took a high-speed train to Beijing, where he toured the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, and took a trip to the Great Wall.
"China is a massive country with lots of famous natural and historical sites to visit," he said. "It's also a nation that is changing rapidly and has an ever-increasing role to play in the world, so that's why I wanted to visit."