China now the world's third most popular destination

China has replaced Spain as the world's third most visited country, behind France and the United States, figures from the UN World Tourism Organisation showed yesterday.

China had 55.98 million international arrivals last year, up 10 per cent, edging past Spain, which received some 53 million foreign tourists, a rise of 1.4 per cent, according to figures released by the Madrid-based body.

France remained in top spot, with 78.95 million visitors, followed by the the United States with 60.88 million, up 2.8 per cent and 10.9 per cent respectively.

In 2008, the United States overtook Spain to become the number two destination.

The UNWTO said previously that global tourism rebounded strongly from the economic crisis, jumping 6.7 per cent in 2010 on the back of strong growth in emerging economies, such as China.

"It is clear that the strong players of Asia are going to continue to be the strong players, not only China, but particularly China," UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said last week.

"The world is changing, the geopolitics of the world is changing, the centres of gravity are changing and we can't expect tourism to be away from that."