China’s inbound tourism grew very slowly in recent years. This study modelled China’s inbound tourism based on a gravity model with province-level inbound tourist arrivals data from 13 countries of origin between 2010 and 2016. It was found that air pollution in tourist destinations and origin regions both had significant negative impacts on China’s inbound tourism. On average, if the concentration of particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less (PM
) in China and foreign countries increased by 1
, inbound tourist arrivals would decline by approximately 1.7% and 3.8%, respectively. The effect of pollution in destination regions is explained by the importance of clean air as a favored characteristic of tourist attractions. The effect of pollution in tourist origin countries is explained by more awareness of and concern about air pollution by potential tourists if they live in more polluted countries. Further analysis showed that the impact of air pollution in destination regions was larger for tourists coming from more polluted and Asian countries, and visiting less polluted and more popular destinations. This study has a clear policy implication: improving air quality can be considered as a straightforward and effective way to promote inbound tourism in China. If air quality in China can be substantially improved in the future, inbound tourist arrivals have the potential to rise by at least tens of millions of person-times.
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