According to Andrews’ calculations, the average PM2.5 reading in the first half of this year was about 118 micrograms per cubic meter. Last year it was 95 micrograms and in 2011 it was 89.
“In other words, so far this year the air pollution is about 25 percent worse than the first half of last year,” he said.
The total number of foreigners visiting Beijing rose in January by 13 percent compared with a year earlier. Following news reports of January’s smog, they dropped in February by 37 percent compared with February last year. In June, the number of foreigners to the Chinese capital was down by about 19 percent from a year earlier, according to the Beijing Tourism Administration.
The biggest drop was among Japanese visitors — 55 percent fewer came to the capital in the first six months. The number of Americans, the biggest single group of foreign visitors, declined 4 percent to just under 370,000. How long the tourist decline lasts is linked to how quickly the smog clears, economists suggest.
Air and water pollution from factories and cars is the outcome of successful economic development and “difficult to control because it is difficult or politically infeasible to identify responsible parties,” former director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University Tim Tyrrell said. “Thus the air pollution trends in China will be difficult to reverse and their impacts will be significantly negative on the tourism industry.”
These impacts could be reversed if “the government can make significant improvements in air quality and enthusiastically convey these improvements to international travelers,” he said.
Other economists in the US are studying 1999 to 2010 data from 18 Chinese provinces that suggest air pollution has an effect on the number of foreign visitors.
A master’s degree thesis by Chinese student Cong Huang at the University of San Francisco was the starting point. She estimated that a 1 percent rise in air pollution will lower the number of foreign tourist arrivals by about 1.2 percent.
The Chinese government has announced ambitious new antipollution measures, but people whose jobs depend on foreign tourists are not hopeful they will help.
The sales manager of the Cuiming Garden Hotel, near Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, said guest numbers are down. She said the next three months usually are a busy period, but if the slump continues, the hotel might cut prices.
“We’re still not very much confident about having many inbound tourists next year,” said the manager, who would give only her surname, Wang.
AP researcher Yu Bing and writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed to this report.