People sightseeing by autobus in New York on June 18, 2008. The first Chinese tour group of about 200 people flew out of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong airports the afternoon of June 17 and arrived in the US yesterday, beginning a phase of new China-US tourism cooperation. [Xinhua]
About 200 mainlanders flew out of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong airports yesterday afternoon, becoming the first group of Chinese vacationers to leave for the US.
"This is a long-awaited trip to the US. But better late than never," said Li Lianjie, 76, at Beijing Capital International Airport.
Li and his wife were among a 24-member group from Beijing that left for a 10-day tour of the US. A larger group, of more than 40 people, will leave Beijing for the US today.
"The US issued only business visas to Chinese travelers in the past. But I am a nobody so there was no way I could get a business visa," said Li, who toured Europe with his wife in 2001.
On Dec 11, 2007, Chinese and US tourism authorities signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which allows Chinese to travel to the US in tourist groups. The US Department of Commerce has estimated that the number of Chinese tourists could reach 579,000 by 2011.
The tourists from Beijing are expected to join a 79-member group from Shanghai and a group of 90 from Guangdong province (who flew from Hong Kong) in Washington.
"According to the schedule, they will be greeted by tourism officials and representatives of the US tourism industry at each stop on their trip to that country," said Liu Lili, an official with the Beijing tourism administration.
Sun Ming, a guide with the group, said the tourists will be invited to the venue of the ongoing China-US Strategic Economic Dialogue in Annapolis, Maryland.
Sun Weiming, an outbound travel manager with the China Youth Travel Service, said the travel agency has received many requests from people eager to tour the US, even though the 10-day tour costs 20,000 yuan ($2,857).