The reaction to a June 28 advisory posted by the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., warning Chinese visitors to the U.S. of the peril of traveling to America—the danger of robberies, shootings, searches and seizures by U.S. customs agents, natural disasters and telecommunications fraud—caused a considerable amount of hand wringing among members of the tour and travel industry who have steadily ramped up their Chinese marketing efforts over the past 10 years.
Said the advisory: “Public security in the United States is not good. Cases of shootings, robberies, and theft are frequent … travelers in the United States should be alert to their surroundings and suspicious individuals, and avoid going out alone at night.”
While governments routinely post advisories for its citizens traveling abroad—and the Chinese government has issued at least three such cautionary advisories in the past—the timing of the announcement, which came at the same time that the opening shots were fired by the Administration of President Donald Trump in a trade war with China, made it seem as though the travel warning could be interpreted as an “official” governmental travel ban by the travel industry.
As an example of what steps China can take, those who work the market point to last year, when the Chinese government punished South Korea for its decision to continue to go ahead with installation of its U.S.-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an anti-ballistic missile defense system by contacting the country’s major travel agencies and giving them verbal instructions to suspend sales of all travel packages, both online and offline, to South Korea. As a result, Chinese travel to South Korea plummeted 40 percent immediately, but has been steadily rebounding despite the fact that major online travel companies such as CTrip, Lvmama and Tuniu still do not offer any South Korean packages. However, the pent up demand by young Chinese shoppers (click here) has resulted in a growing increase. For instance, the number of Chinese travelers visiting South Korea was 428,000 in March, up 16.5 percent from a month earlier, according to the Ministry of Justice. It was up 13 percent from a year ago. It marked the first time in 13 months that the figure topped 400,000. It had peaked at 614,000 in February 2017, just before the sudden decline.
However, according to a survey of the 24 top tour operators and travel agencies conducted by East West Marketing, one of the most prominent representation agencies in China, four days after the alert was issued, none had received any communications from the Chinese governmental agencies. However, nearly all believe that the visa rejection rate will increase for the remainder of 2018. See tables below.
Respondent companies were from four major areas of China: (Beijing) Beijing CITS, Utour, Beijing China Travel, Fancy Tour, Caissa Touristic; (Shanghai) Shanghai Jinjiang Travel, Galaxy Tour Shanghai (two offices), Beijing Fancy Tour Shanghai Office, Shanghai Wanda Travel, Shanghai Spring Travel, Shanghai Ctrip; (Guangzhou) Dista Group, Shenzhen Kingsway Travel, Shenzhen CITS, Guangzhou China Travel, Nanhu International Travel; (Chengdu) Dista Group Chengdu Office, Chongqing Grand Express, Sichuan Shanglv Travel, Champion Holiday, Diamond Travel Alliance.
What Can the Industry Do? Already, some DMOs with in-country representation or offices in China are sending messages—along with research reporting about the relative safety of their destinations—that they are open for business and they welcome everyone. Following, here are some points to be aware in the wake of the Chinese government’s travel advisory:
- Suppliers and destinations should be allaying fears by having their CEOs send out letters to the trade about how safe their destinations (with back up statistics) and how welcoming they are.
- Remember to maintain constant lines of communication and offers for assistance.
- Follow the alerts, news releases and weekly travel reports of the U.S. Travel Association (www.ustravel.org) for information that may not appear in the general news media channels of distribution, but are important to the U.S. travel industry. The same advice stands for information from Brand USA (www.thebrandusa.com), which also has resource material to help the industry fashion its messages for distribution abroad. Both US Travel and Brand USA have data that are useful in your messaging.
- The visa rejection issue is, in some ways, being addressed by Brand USA, which had announced an initiative to train travel companies to help clients complete visa applications; and while a considerable number have been issued 10-year visas, which requires them to update their personal data online every two years.
It’s been INBOUND’s experience that those that have maintained relationships through inbound arrival declines during previous crises such as 9/11, SARS, and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09, experienced a profound surge in business driven by pent-up demand, once situations returned to normal.