By Patturaja Murugaboopathy and Ryan Woo
Feb 6 (Reuters) - Embassies are re-writing visa rules and governments are hammering out aviation pacts as record spending by Chinese travelers sets off a race around the world for a share of the Chinese tourist dollar.
Chinese spending on international travel in 2014 rose to $165 billion from $129 billion in 2013, the biggest percentage increase in two years, according to data released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange last week.
Chinese disposable incomes have been steadily rising and would-be travelers got an additional boost in the past year from favorable foreign exchange rates, with the yuan appreciating more than 10 percent against the yen and the Australian dollar. The gains versus the euro have been even greater, at more than 14 percent, and the yuan set a record against the single currency last month.
Governments near and far are keen to get their countries onto Chinese itineraries. In November, the United States signed a landmark deal with China extending one-year visas issued to Chinese travelers to up to a decade. This year Malaysia and Indonesia are planning visa exemptions, while Thailand is considering exempting visa fees, which were briefly suspended last year. Australia in January signed an agreement with China allowing more passenger flights from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou with immediate effect.
Air traffic data for China's big airlines confirms a rising preference for overseas travel in the world's most populous nation. Air China's international routes recorded 14.6 percent growth in 2014 in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs), a gauge of traffic, versus 6.1 percent for domestic routes, Reuters calculations show. China Southern Airlines' international RPK growth was 20.2 percent versus 10.0 percent domestically. China Eastern Airlines posted international RPK growth of 4.4 percent.
(Reporting By Patturaja Murugaboopathy in BENGALURU and Ryan Woo in SINGAPORE; Additional reporting by Shilpa Murthy in BENGALURU; Editing by Edmund Klamann)