China Pollution Beijing March 2013 2
Journalists wearing masks walk on Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in front of the Great Hall of the People, 2013. Reuters

Around the globe, the Chinese tourist is a sought-after customer as the new generation of spending-happy travelers sets out to explore. But at the same time, China itself has been climbing the ranks of international tourism, earning the position of world’s third-largest tourist destination.

According to a report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, China occupied that spot for the second year in a row in 2012, with a total of 58 million international tourists visiting. The No. 1 destination was France, followed by the United States. And China is expected to surpass both nations to become the world’s top tourism destination by 2015, according to Taleb Rifai, the secretary general of UNWTO, as reported by the state-owned Xinhua news agency.

While this is good news for China’s general tourism industry, some areas of the country have seen declines in visitors. A report by the China Daily found that tourism in the capital Beijing dropped 14 percent in the first half of 2013. The report is citing reasons like “frequent air pollution” for the lull in visitors.

World News Australia reports that even with new visa-free travel flexibility in China, travelers are still being put off by reports of noxious air problems. The Australian site cited a downward trend in tourism over the past three years, adding that during the past six months 2.14 million people visited the capital. The dip in Beijing visitors began in 2012, when the city welcomed 5 million tourists, down from 5.2 million the previous year.

According to a rating index by Beijing’s China Tourism Academy, tourists rated the capital city 75.28 on a scale of satisfaction with their visit in the second quarter, down about five points from the previous quarter. The China Tourism Academy also reported an increase of complaints by inbound tourists nationwide, at a rate of 7.2 percent of visitors in the second quarter, compared with 5.77 the previous quarter.

In order to reverse the dwindling numbers and increased dissatisfaction, Beijing’s Commission of Tourism Development held a meeting in July to discuss ways to boost tourism in the city.