Leisure tour groups from China can travel to the US as early as in June, China National Tourism Bureau deputy director Zhang Xiqin has said.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU), signed in December, makes the US a Chinese government-approved destination for tourists.
The two countries are in the middle of discussions on technical details now, and it is likely that they will simplify the visa issuing procedure, Beijing Times quoted Zhang as having said yesterday.
The Chinese and the US governments should work together to ensure that tourism between the two countries develops in a healthy manner, Zhang said.
"We will allow only the best tourist agencies to make arrangements for the groups visiting the US, and we hope the US side appoints operators to deal with Chinese tour groups," he said.
A few domestic tourist agencies said they have finalized the tour package, and are waiting for the green light. Some have even received reservation inquiries from enthusiastic tourists.
"The tour package we've come up with comprise mostly traditional routes such as a 10-day visit to the western coast of the US and a weeklong tour of Hawaii," said Lin Kang, deputy general manager of China International Travel Service's outbound tourism department.
"But the package is the easy part. What we are worried about is the visa policy," he said.
Spokeswoman for the US embassy in China Susan Stevenson said over the phone that the tourism agreement would not change visa procedures for Chinese tourists to the US.
A fact sheet she provided showed the MOU had agreed to facilitate Chinese leisure group travels to the US "without changing existing laws or policies of the US, including the issuance of visas".
She cited US consul general Mike Regan as having said in January that according to US visa regulations, the majority of applicants will need to appear at the US embassy or a consulate in person to get a visa.
Most Chinese tourists will have to talk face to face to visa officers and have all their 10 fingerprints scanned, she said. Diplomats, children under 14, persons above 80 and patients who need to rush for emergency medical treatment to the US are the exceptions.
Insiders said the unchanged visa policy would add to the cost of tour operators and tourists both.
China Comfort International Travel Service spokesman Guo Yu, spokesman said people living in cities that don't have a US consulate would have to pay additional charges to travel for the three-hour face-to-face talk in cities like Beijing.
"If they fail to get a visa, tour agencies will have to share the loss," he said.