The Chinese have become the single biggest source of global tourism income after spending $102bn (£67bn; 79bn euros) while travelling abroad in 2012.
The total is 40% higher than the year before, and puts them well above the next two highest-spending countries, Germany and the US.
The figures come from the UN World Tourism Organisation.
It says higher incomes, looser travel restrictions and a strengthening currency are behind the surge.
Other emerging market countries saw their tourism numbers jump, too.
The Russian Federation saw spending rise by 32% to $43bn, putting it in fifth place in the ranking of international tourism spending, up from seventh.
The organisation's secretary general, Taleb Rifai, said: "Emerging economies continue to lead growth in tourism demand.
"The impressive growth of tourism expenditure from China and Russia reflects the entry into the tourism market of a growing middle class from these countries, which will surely continue to change the map of world tourism."
The UNWTO regional director for Asia, Xu Jing, called the number "staggering".
The tourist promotion industry is gearing up to serve the growing flow of tourists from emerging economies.
Attract China is a US business that helps destinations and businesses promote themselves to Chinese visitors.
Evan Saunders, Attract China's co-founder, said Chinese tourists were increasingly spending their money directly in the country they were visiting, rather than relying on organised tours, as in the past: "We've seen a dramatic increase in the past year alone - not just the numbers, but what they want to do when they get there.
"They are more adventurous - for example, they will now go for car hire, rather than just be one of a group of tourists on a bus."
But Mr Xu said the Chinese remained keen on shopping: "When they travel abroad they want to bring home a lot of souvenirs for relatives and friends, so shopping remains high on the agenda."
Spending from traditional markets also grew, however, with Germany and the US growing by 6% each and the UK's travel expenditure rising by 4% to $52bn.
France and Italy were unusual in seeing spending from their tourists drop, by 7% in the case of France and 2% for Italy.
Other, smaller markets with strong growth included Venezuela, where spending grew by 31%, and Poland, where spending was up by 19%.