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Politics a turnoff for Chinese visiting US

China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-31 08:06
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Aggressive stance on trade and visas harming tourism numbers in capital

Tourists take pictures and selfies outside Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in the United States in April. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON-For tourists, the historic White House is the centerpiece attraction. But the rhetoric coming out of the building is turning Chinese visitors away.

Statistics confirmed that fear on Tuesday: the number of Chinese tourists to the US capital city has seen a steep fall.

According to a report by Destination DC, a local tourism organization, about 226,000 Chinese tourists descended upon the capital in 2018. It registers a 25 percent drop from the previous year.

The drop marked a second consecutive year that the number of international tourists in Washington is decreasing, having dropped about 3 percent in 2017.

Benoit Barraud, general manager of sightseeing bus company Big Bus Tours, said the drop in customers is almost palpable. There are 20-25 percent fewer overseas customers hopping on his buses in downtown Washington, Barraud said. Much of it is due to the drop in Chinese tourists.

"I absolutely do not want this trend to continue," Barraud added.

The drop in Chinese visitors remains a concern for the tourism industry. This is due to their growing wealth and inclination to spend more than tourists from other countries.

The latest numbers from the US Travel Association showed that Chinese tourists on average spend $6,700 per visit. In comparison, the average is about $4,000 among all overseas visitors.

"The Chinese are my best clients. I like them," a Washington events planner who declined to be named told Xinhua.

Washington's woes are not unique in the United States. Chinese visitors to the US dropped 5.7 percent overall last year, according to US Travel Association numbers.

Even New York, one of the top destinations for Chinese tourists in the country, is feeling the chill.

According to NYCgo, New York's tourism promotion agency, the rate of Chinese inbound travel "continues to cool from previous gains" but is still forecast to grow this year.

Carl Smith, director of sales and marketing for Prince George's County near Washington, said he has heard mounting concerns from local businesses that protracted tension between China and the US might hurt tourism.

"Normally people wouldn't think twice about coming here. Now they aren't so sure," he said.

Many believe that the US-China trade war and hawkish rhetoric from the US government, as well as unfriendly visa policies are to blame.

"Rhetoric from the White House is dampening foreign tourists' enthusiasm to visit Washington," Destination DC's CEO Elliot Ferguson said.

In a letter to member businesses, NYCgo also attributed the slowing traffic from China to "rising economic tensions and trade talks".

Wilka Nascimento, sales director at a Hyatt Place hotel in central Washington, said she noted an uptick in visa denials for foreign tourists.

"In one case, half a tour group was denied a visa," she said. She added that her hotel now asks tour groups to secure visas for its members before booking a room.

In addition to short-term losses, the US tourism industry is also anxious it may not be able to regain the market share it loses to competitors.

While statistics show a declining number of Chinese tourists to the US, the opposite is true for Russia, Europe, Australia and Canada.

"If market share loss continues in future years, the United States will be losing out on one of the largest and fastest-growing source markets of global travel," the US Travel Association warned.

To win back the hearts of Chinese tourists, Destination DC has been on a promotional campaign. They are using Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat and weibo to expand exposure. It also launched a Welcome China program, aimed at helping local businesses better meet the specific needs of Chinese tourists.

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