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Experts see Chinese tourism to US rising in 2013

Updated: 2013-03-20 11:04
By Chen Jia in San Francisco ( China Daily)

The number of Chinese tourists to the United States will rise by about 13 percent this year, aided by aggressive marketing and easier visa procedures, said travel industry professionals.

"Thanks to the new (US) visa policy, the number of tourists from the Chinese mainland to the US will touch the ceiling of 1.7 million this year," said Xu Chengwu, president of the American Chinese Tourist Association. Established in New York in 2010, the association helps local businesses adapt services for Chinese tourists.

About 1.5 million people from the Chinese mainland visited the US in 2012, and streamlined visa processing at US consulates was just one reason, said Bob Rouse, spokesman for the National Tour Association, which represents package-tour operators in the US and Canada.

The association has been focused on China's outbound-travel market since 2008. That year, the US and Chinese governments agreed to allow leisure travelers from China to visit the US on group tours. The NTA in turn launched its China Inbound Program and maintains a list of US operators that specialize in serving Chinese tour groups.

"We are very grateful for the Obama administration's efforts in promoting tourism between the two sides, and we expect it to move quicker in 2013," Rouse said.

President Barack Obama and representatives of the US travel and tourism industry recently launched a campaign to promote the country as a top international travel destination. China is a key target of the $150 million global marketing effort, labeled Brand USA.

China's government has also announced a series of initiatives aimed at increasing travel among its citizens. A recently issued document emphasizes the importance of travel as a way to enhance the country's economy and citizens' quality of life.

The government paper, which focuses on 2013 to 2020, outlines plans for improving China's travel and tourism infrastructure and providing incentives for travel. Among the plans are building or expanding airports, highways, hotels and attractions; increasing the amount of workers' paid leave; allowing greater tax deductions to encourage companies' business travel; and allowing schools to provide travel periods beyond summer and winter breaks.

The central government is clearly making travel a priority, said Haybina Hao, director of international development for the NTA.

"Chinese leaders recognize that travel expands the horizons of its citizens, and when people see more of the world, they can return to China inspired and better prepared to be creative entrepreneurs," she said.

In April, Hao will be in Beijing for the China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market, a major trade show at which the NTA will co-present the official US pavilion along with Brand USA.

This month, the US Embassy in Beijing launched additional measures to make the visa-application process smoother. The new procedures involve more convenient visa-interview scheduling and status updates, the embassy said.

Applicants at US consulates in Beijing and other Chinese cities will only have to pay a standard processing fee of $160 for most nonimmigrant-visa categories. Unlike the current policy, no additional fees will be charged for scheduling or changing a visa interview or for returning a passport.

Potential US travelers will also be allowed to use the Internet to take part in a visa interview or to check on the status of their application.

The US State Department in 2012 cut the average waiting time for Chinese applicants seeking an interview for a US visa to five days. The embassy in Beijing has pledged to continue improving efficiency this year.

"Visas are government tools to ensure safe and orderly international travel. And what makes our work worthwhile is the deep and meaningful relationship between our two great peoples," US Ambassador to China Gary Locke was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying in February. "It brings American and Chinese culture together and builds bridges of understanding between us."

chenjia@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily 03/20/2013 page1)

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