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China will soon top the U.S. in business travel

Despite a cooling economy and slower economic growth, China will soon overtake the U.S. as the world's top business travel market, perhaps by 2017.

That's according to a report sponsored by Visa (V) and released by the GBTA Foundation, the education and research arm of the Global Business Travel Association.

The report downgraded its forecast for business travel in China compared to the outlook it published last year, due to the Chinese economy's growth slippage since then and continued global economic uncertainty. But the GBTA noted overall spending on business travel originating in China grew by around 16.6 percent in 2014, to $261 billion. And it projects that figure will grow by over 14 percent this year and by another 12 percent in 2016.

"While this is slower growth for China, it is all relative," Michael McCormick, GBTA executive director said in a press statement. "There is simply no other market to compare China to as their economic engine continues to move forward at a phenomenal pace producing double digit business travel spending growth."

McCormick noted that exactly when China becomes the world's largest business travel market doesn't really matter. Of more importance, he said, are the country's economic policies, which are creating a healthy business travel industry.

At the same time, according to Stanford Lin, vice president and head of products at Visa China, "China's economic growth projections in the near term remain robust, which bode well for a strong business travel market, growing more rapidly than the other major markets globally."

The GBTA report also expects China's international outbound spending to grow at double-digit rates for the next two years, with projections of 13.6 percent his year and 11 percent in 2016. However, it will "see challenges as the world economy remains on shaky ground."

At the same time, the report says the skyrocketing growth in both business and leisure travel has prompted the hotel industry to "significantly increase" its presence in China over the last decade, particularly in the upscale and luxury hotels business travelers favor.

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