Visitor Numbers from China to US Falling, Experts Warn AMP

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Visitor numbers to the US from China have fallen for the first time since 2003, new data has shown. According to data collected from US customs forms by the National Travel and Tourism Office, Chinese visitors to the United States decreased by 5.7% to 2.9 million visitors in 2018. It is the first dip in Chinese tourists to the US in over 15 years.

The reduction comes after years of steady growth in Chinese tourist numbers to the US. Although Chinese visitors did not make up the top 10 list for US tourist arrivals until 2011, by 2017 the country had the fifth highest number of visitors, behind only Canada, Mexico, Britain, and Japan. Between 2008 and 2016, spending from Chinese tourists in the US rose sharply by 600 percent to almost $18.9 billion, around 11 percent of total tourist spending.

By 2010, the 249, 000 Chinese citizens who visited the US in 2000 had tripled, to 802, 000 tourist arrivals.  This again tripled to 802, 000 by 2015, something experts say can be attributed to a variety of factors, including a rise in Chinese incomes, easing of visa restrictions, and better connections to long-haul flights in China.  However, signs of a slowdown began to appear when the number of Chinese arrivals grew by just 4 percent in 2017, the lowest increase in over a decade.

Chinese passport holders are not able to obtain an ESTA visa waiver for travel to the United States and are required to apply for a B1/B2 visa from a US embassy or consulate. However,  Chinese nationals are also required to register with the EVUS (Electronic Visa Update System) in order to determine their eligibility to travel to the United States. The validity of an approved EVUS lasts for two years, meaning that Chinese citizens do not need to submit a new application for each entry to the United States during this time.

US and China dispute might be the cause of the reduction of visitor

Many will point to the ongoing trade dispute between China and the US as the source of the reduction of visitors, and indeed many Chinese citizens have expressed a desire to minimize spending if required to travel to the United States so as not to bolster the US economy.

However, experts say the trade dispute is only one part of the problem. Another possible cause could be the fact that last summer China issued a travel warning for the US advising citizens to be aware of high crime rates and expensive medical care in the country.

Economic uncertainty in China could also be leading tourists to vacation closer to home and avoid spending on long-haul flights, a theory advocated by Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of the Chinese Outbound Tourism Research Institute. The institute published a recent study which found that, in the first 3 months of 2018, 56 percent of travelers from China traveled to Asian destinations such as Hong Kong or Taiwan, compared to only 50 percent in 2017. Travel to destinations only a little further afield, such as Croatia, Morocco, or Nepal, had also significantly increased.

This change mirrors the general trend of a decrease in international travel to the US, which fell 2 percent between 2016 and 2017. However, many in the tourism industry agree that this downturn, at least from Chinese arrivals, is only a temporary one. Indeed, the US government has predicted that Chinese tourism will grow in by 2 percent to 3.3 million arrivals in 2019, and that numbers may even reach as high as 4.1 million by 2023.

Us Tourist Industry facing a global change

However, many travel experts say the biggest issue is that the US tourist industry has to do more to cater to Chinese travelers and their evolving needs to continue this growth. Many Chinese tourists, especially from the younger generation, are now eschewing booking through tour companies in favor of planning their vacations using social media apps and smartphone-based payment systems.

David Becker, former CEO of Attract China, a New York-based travel consultancy, has stated his belief that it is essential for US tour companies, accommodation offerings, and attractions to invest heavily in these technologies in order to remain relevant to the Chinese market. The implementation of live translation apps, as well as mobile payment technologies, are likely to convince Chinse travelers that their needs will be met and they can enjoy a comfortable vacation in the United States.

Huge strides in catering to Chinese tourists have already been made in Washington DC, where an interactive guide app has already been launched in Mandarin to help visitors navigate attractions and locate dining and shopping options. Authorities in their city have also recently implemented the ‘Welcome China’ program, aimed at hotels, restaurants, and other establishments who may come into contact with Chinese tourists. The program, which has already been adopted by 44 hotels and a number of restaurants in Washington, aims to raise awareness of Chinese customs and encourage business owners to offer incentives like menus and guides in Mandarin. Implementing other such measures in cities across the United States can only be a positive step in increasing the overall number of Chinese tourist arrivals to the US.

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