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Air pollution hits China's tourism

Worsening air pollution in China has badly hit its tourist industry Numbers of foreign visitors have declined following January's "Airpocalypse," when already eye-searing levels of smog soared to new highs.

Tourists have been put off by news about smog and other problems, said Frano Ilic of travel agency Studiosus in Munich, Germany. He said the number of people booking trips to China through his company has fallen 16% this year.

"You are reading about smog. You are reading about political things," he said. "All the news which is coming from China concerning the non-touristic things are bad, frankly speaking,"

China is the world's No. 3 destination for international travel after France and the United States. Weakness in visitor numbers could hurt government efforts to reduce reliance on trade-driven manufacturing by promoting cleaner service industries such as tourism. Foreign visitors are outnumbered by Chinese tourists but spend more.

The decline could be long-term if Beijing fails to make visible progress in combating pollution, experts say.

From January to June, the total number of foreign visitors, including business travellers and residents, entering China declined by 5% to just under 13 million compared with the same period last year, according to the China National Tourism Administration. Overall, visitors from Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas all declined.

In Beijing, with major attractions including the Great Wall and the Imperial Palace, the drop is even more striking. The number of foreign tourists visiting the Chinese capital fell by 15% in the first six months of the year to 1.9 million.

Chinese tourism officials blame the global economic slowdown and a stronger Chinese currency and say China's image has been hurt by the emergence of H7N9 bird flu, air pollution and dead pigs found floating in Shanghai's main river.

Beijing's city government only started publicly releasing air quality data in January 2012 that measured PM2.5, or fine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. They can enter deep into the lungs and can cause more damage. They are considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other pollutants.

How long the tourist decline lasts is linked to how quickly the smog clears, economists suggest. The Chinese government has announced ambitious new anti-pollution measures but people whose jobs depend on foreign tourists are not 't hopeful.

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