Contributing nearly 10 percent of the nation's total inbound and outbound tourism revenues, Beijing is no doubt the leader of China's tourism industry.
Statistics from the Beijing tourism administration showed that the capital's tourism service trade volume - measured by the revenue generated from both inbound and outbound tourists - reached $13.61 billion last year, increasing 25.2 percent from the previous year.
The growth was achieved despite a downturn in worldwide tourism resulting from the global financial crisis that started in 2008.
More impressively, the city's lead in the industry was further consolidated in 2011.
Home to the nation's capital for more than 600 years, Beijing is usually the first stop for foreign tourists planning a China trip.
The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, housed in the city center, and the Great Wall in its northern suburbs should be household names for foreigners with even a passing knowledge of China.
And tourists will be further fascinated by such places as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) tombs, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and the city's many ancient hutongs, or alleyways.
And as one of the financial, high-tech and transportation hubs in China, the city also receives a great number of business travelers.
So it should come as no surprise why Beijing made up about 8.1 percent of China's inbound tourism revenue of $66.88 billion last year.
But growing even faster is Beijing's outbound tourism.
Statistics show that the city's outbound tourists generated a total revenue of $8.19 billion, growing 27.6 percent from the previous year and up 590 percent from $1.19 billion in 2003.
With a higher per capita income than most of the regions of China and easier access to visa application procedures in the city's many foreign embassies, Beijing's residents seem more willing and able to visit foreign countries than people in the rest of the country.
Due to their tendency to spend large amounts of money in the overseas destinations, tourists from Beijing are especially welcome by foreign tourism companies and authorities.
For example, the Canadian Tourism Commission recently cooperated with the Beijing-based China Youth Service (CYTS) to open an "Experiencing Canada" showroom in the travel agency's headquarters.
The showroom displays Canada's landmark sightseeing sites, cultures, people and life in an exhibition area of 200 square meters with photos and stories.
"This year, the focus of our cooperation is to promote the century-old Calgary Stampede festival in Canada," said Zhang Lijun, president of CYTS.
CYTS is among the leading local travel agencies to greatly benefit from outbound tourism.
Last year, its outbound tourism revenue reached 8.46 billion yuan, increasing 38 percent from 2010.
Despite the overall growth of the industry, insiders have noticed the deficit of the tourism service trade.
Last year, Beijing's inbound tourism revenue stood at $5.42 billion, compared with $8.19 billion in outbound tourism.
Room for improvement
"This means there is a great space for improvement in our efforts to attract foreign travelers," said Zhang of CYTS.
In addition to upgrading tourism infrastructure, Zhang highlighted the need to improve service.
He cited many customer complaints about tourism services in China, such as forced shopping by travel guides and overcharging by local firms and vendors.
In a recent case, tourists to Sanya, Hainan province, complained that they were ripped off by local restaurant owners, who charged more than 4,000 yuan for an ordinary three-course meal.
"Therefore measures are needed to regulate the market and standardize services," Zhang said.
He said improving the domestic tourism market requires the joint efforts of governments and enterprises.
A recent development is that CYTS and its 76 partner companies jointly released an announcement for standardized operations, including coordinating complaint resolution, offering trustworthy services and regulating staff behavior.
Another Beijing-based travel agency, the BTG International Travel & Tours, is also devoted to offering standardized and yet personalized services.
Since 2010, the company has begun to offer customers a modified contract in which ambiguous terms have been deleted, ensuring that tourists have a clear understanding of the responsibility of the company and the level of services they will have.
In addition, it also offers tailored services according to customers' varied demands for lodging, dinning and transportation.
"We are able to offer services with the same quality as those travel companies in Japan, the United States and Europe," said Guo Meiling, director of human resources at BTG.