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Chinese tourist snap photos of Canada geese in Vancouver's Stanley Park.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

I know that China's tourism numbers around the world are growing. But I did not realize how big the Chinese market had become until I spotted a study from the Global Business Travel Association about how business travellers from China are expected to surpass those from the United States by 2016 or 2017.

Here at home, both Vancouver and Toronto welcomed more visitors from China last year than any country besides the United States. That puts China on top of the overseas tourism podium, eclipsing our old friends from the United Kingdom for the first time.

Toronto saw 230,485 recorded Chinese visits in 2014. (Visits from the U.K. totalled 217,232.) In 2010, that number was just 114,600, so the numbers are increasing at a rapid pace.

"We identified the China market as a key source market nearly 10 years ago and began dedicating staff and resources to developing that market," said Andrew Weir, vice president at Tourism Toronto.

Chinese visitors to Vancouver numbered 229,654 in 2014. And the average Chinese tourist spent $838.72 during a visit, more than double the American visitor average of $405.21 (although it is worth noting that the average Chinese guest stays longer).

Tourism Vancouver has reached out to this market through a campaign featuring Chinese-born singer/songwriter Wanting Qu, generating tens of millions of hits on social-media websites in China.

China is now our country's third-largest market overall, reports the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), after the U.K. and France. And it is expected to become our second largest by 2016.

Another popular stop is Alberta: Chinese visits to that province nearly doubled last year, rising 93 per cent to 68,000 travellers, according to the CTC. Officials in Quebec should take notice: Quebec's take of the Chinese market rose a relatively paltry 19.3 per cent last year, topping out around 50,000 visitors.

The most common activities among Chinese travellers in Canada are shopping, sightseeing and visiting friends or relatives, according to the CTC. Visits to zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens surged 59.9 per cent in 2012.

Hotels, of course, are keen to capitalize on this trend. Hilton recently announced it is expanding its welcoming program for Chinese visitors. The Huanying program (it roughly translates as "welcome") includes traditional breakfast options such as dim sum, as well as interpretation services, in-room slippers and Mandarin-language TV stations. The program will be available at more than 110 properties around the world, including two in Vancouver.

Similarly Starwood hotels, which include Westin, Sheraton and other brands, offers the Starwood Personalized Travel program for Chinese travellers around the world. Its special amenities include in-room tea kettles, translated welcome materials and on-site translation services, as well as translated menus and breakfast treats such as congee.

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