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China / Across America

China-US tourism gets boost from both sides

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-09-28 13:21

When Chinese travelled abroad in the 1980s and 1990s, they were often asked by locals if they were Japanese or Korean or Singaporean. And for many, it was not a particularly pleasant feeling.

At that time, China's middle class was still small and very few Chinese could afford to travel abroad.

Today, the picture is completely different. Outbound Chinese tourists exceeded 100 million in 2014, compared with only 8.4 million in 1998, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Six countries - South Korea, Thailand, Japan, the United States, Vietnam and Singapore - each welcomed more than 1 million Chinese travelers last year.

While neighboring countries such as South Korea and Japan continue to be hot destinations for outbound Chinese tourists (despite the row over historical issues between China and Japan), the US has become increasingly popular among Chinese travelers, thanks largely to the reciprocal visa extension program unveiled last November during President Barack Obama's visit to Beijing.

Applying for a US tourist visa used to be such a daunting task that many Chinese would opt for other destinations where visas were more readily available. That no longer seems to be the case.

China is an important contributor to revenues generated by international travel to the US, according to a report released Friday by the US Department of Commerce.

In 2014, China was the number two country for visitor spending to and within the US, with an estimated $23.8 billion spent on travel and tourism.

Chinese coming to the US 10 or 20 years ago found everything was so expensive. Today, the growing Chinese middle class sees the US as a shopping Mecca. Many outlet shopping malls and luxury brand stores now have Chinese-speaking staff to cater to this trend, something noticeable with the upcoming Chinese Oct 1 National Day weeklong holiday.

China made up of 2.9 percent of total international arrivals in the US in 2014, with an estimated 2.2 million travelers, a more than 20 percent jump over 2013. America's great outdoors are a significant attraction for Chinese visitors to the US, with 40 percent of Chinese tourists saying they had been to a national park while visiting the US, according to the Commerce Department.

Overall, international travel to the US generated $220.6 billion in 2014, supporting 1.1 million American jobs.

Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, told China Daily recently that the group's hotels have seen a 20 percent annual growth in the number of Chinese tourists and the hotels are staffing people with Mandarin language skills to better serve this group.

Sorenson was excited by the group's survey that Chinese travelers have chosen the US as their top destination.

That optimistic mood has been further elevated with President Xi Jinping announcing in Seattle on Sept 22 that China and the US will hold a China-US Tourism Year in 2016. The rationale behind it is to increase people-to-people exchange, as lack of understanding and mistrust are often cited as major challenges between the two nations.

According to both the US Department of Commerce and the Chinese National Tourism Administration (CNTA), efforts will be made to ensure a quality visitor experience for travelers to and from both nations.

Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

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