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As tourism becomes an increasingly important sector of the world economy, tourism-related research can be expected to expand in both magnitude and scope as a critical supporting function for tourism industry (Baker, Hozier & Rogers, 1993). In the case of China, the rapid international and domestic tourism growth not only brought prosperity to this country, but also caused many serious social, cultural, and environmental problems. As planning, marketing, and product development become increasingly complex in the tourism industry, research becomes a critical function in providing needed information for decision-making (Sparks, 1998). Academic articles in the domain of Chinese tourism have been published for many years; however, an empirical analysis on the content of the articles appearing in major hospitality and tourism journals has not been conducted. It seems appropriate at this juncture to take stock of current research efforts on tourism in China, to determine where we are now, how far we have progressed, and where we need to go in the future.

Recent tourism development of China

China’s tourism has experienced four stages of development, which began in the


In the first stage, which was from the founding of the P.R.C to 1978, China’s tourism, not yet an industry was chiefly a supplement to foreign affairs service in the form of hosting organizations and friends from abroad and arranging tours for them. This basically closed or semi-closed status determined its limited role in the national economic


and social development. China received 760,000 tourists and earned US$ 260 million in 1978, ranking 41st in the world (Yearbook of China Tourism, 1978).

In the second stage (1979-1988), China’s tourism opened itself to the outside world. A number of hotels for tourists were built with foreign investment, so that more overseas tourist can be hosted. In 1983, China entered the World Tourism Organization (WTO). The targets for tourists and foreign exchange income began to be incorporated into the national plan for economic and social development in 1986, which was a historic turn. A total of 4.35 million tourists were organized to visit China with US$ 2.24 billion earned in 1988, hitting a record high (Gao, 1997).

The third stage covered the 1989-1990 period. The year 1989 witnessed political disturbance in this country, and some western countries applied sanction against China’s tourism. As a result, the tourism industry halted a serious slowdown for two years. China earned US$ 2.21 billion in 1990, roughly on the same level of 1988 (China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), 1990).

The fourth stage, which began in 1991, has experienced a new rapid expansion. In 1992, China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) successfully held ’92 China Friendly Tour and obtained good economic returns. It was followed by a variety of theme promotions such as ’93 Scenery Tour and ’98 Chinese Cities and Countryside Tour. In addition, the government approved to establish 12 national holiday resorts and 119 national scenic resorts and named 99 cities of major significance as national historical and cultural cities (CNTA, 1998). All these played a major role in enriching and improving the structure of China’s tourist products and in opening its tourist market. In 1996, visitor arrivals (including foreigners and Chinese compatriots who live in Hong


Kong, Macau and Taiwan) totaled 51.1 million, a 27- fold increases from 1.8 million in 1978. In terms of economic contribution, tourism receipts increased from US$ 0.26 billion in 1978 to US$ 10.2 billion in 1996 (CNTA, 1985-1998). With its foreign currencies earned from tourism ranking the ninth in the world, China became the fifth largest tourist destination (Yearbook of World Economy and Culture, 1998).

Some new trends and phenomenon

Along with the rapid growth of the national economy, China’s domestic tourism boomed and became a major consumption area in social demand. Domestic tourists came to 644 million persons with 211.27 billion RMB Yuan earned in 1997 (Zhang , 1998). This showed that tourism had become a major part in the service industry.

Meanwhile, China is also experiencing stunning growth in outbound travel. In 1992, 2.93 million outbound travelers represented a 37.3% increase over the previous year (Wang & Sheldon, 1995). As of 1998, 8.4 million Chinese visited other lands, and ranked ninth in the world (McDonnell, 1999). A report by the Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) found that “the market was moving much faster than anyone had anticipated, and China was already delivering large number of tourists to any country prepared to accept them” (Ram, 1993).

According to a most recent research by WTO, by 2020, the country is expected to become to the world’s top destination with 130 million annual visitors, and 100 million Chinese are expected to visit other lands.


Problems and challenges

Despite the great progress and good prospect in tourism development, there are many challenges from both home and abroad. The examples include: the destruction of tourist sites and natural landscape, the pollution of environment, the shortage of financial resources for infrastructure development, the persistent attitudinal problems among service personnel, and the pressure from the competitors in the Asia-Pacific area with more diversified tourism product and higher service quality.

Due to the increasing importance of the Chinese tourism industry in the world and many serious problems affecting its further growth, the corresponding research in this field needs to be improved in both quantity and quality to meet the international standard. In view of this, an examination of past research efforts will be helpful to provide an understanding of the academic direction of this field, to identify the gap between the supply and demand of the research, and anticipate future research need in this field.

Goals of the study

Reviewing past research efforts facilitates improvement and understanding of research and reveals the structure and boundaries of a discipline (Wells & Picou, 1981; Goldman, 1979). This effort is particularly valuable in a developing field such as tourism, where limited indicators exist regarding research practices and techniques employed.

Academic journals constitute an indicator of the direction of research in a field (Reid & Andereck, 1989). Previous studies showed that two thirds of academic research findings are communicated in the forms of journal articles. Some recent studies (Ferreira, DeFranco & Rappole, 1994) have also shown that the three top rated hospitality journals


are: International Journal of Hospitality Management (IJHM); Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly (CHRAQ); And Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research (JHTR). The top three tourism journals are: Annals of Tourism Research (ATR); Journal of Travel Research (JTR); and Tourism Management (TM). Therefore, the articles from these journals on a certain subject, such as the studies on China, can be treated as a representative sample to reflect the development of the knowledge body, to understand how the field advances in terms of research themes and methods, and help to identify some emerging trends and future research needs.

Three questions formed the structure of examining the articles published in the six journals. That is, (1) Is there any shift in the subject matter of the articles published? (2) Is there a shift in the methodology used in generating the articles? (3) Is there a pattern with regard to the authors (such as the author type and the institutions they belong to) who published the articles in the journals?

Statement of the Problem

The purpose of this study is to identify and analyze the work that has been done to date related to hospitality and tourism research on China from published articles in six major research journals.

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