The United Nations attributes China's rise to the top of the tourism pyramid to the Asian nation's rapid urbanization and rising disposable incomes.
The United Nations' World Tourism Organization said the number of international trips made by Chinese travelers grew from 10 million in 2000 to 83 million in 2012. Spending by Chinese tourists spiked by 40 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Relaxation of restrictions on foreign travel and an appreciating Chinese currency contributed to the boom, the WTO said.
"With this sustained growth, China has become the largest spender in international tourism globally in 2012," the WTO said in a release.
As recently as 2005, China ranked seventh in international tourism expenditure. To get to the top spot, it overtook Italy, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States.
Germany and the United States spent close to $84 billion in 2012.
Russia is another fast-growing tourist nation, with a 32 percent increase in spending in 2012 to reach $43 billion. Brazil also experienced a significant increase, moving up from 29th in 2005 to 12th position.
"Emerging economies continue to lead growth in tourism demand," WTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said. "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."