What the U.S.-based tour and travel industry has picked up anecdotally, or if you’re a receptive tour operator that sells the Chinese market and you’ve learned it from your in-China trade partners, is true: inbound traffic from China is down. And it’s probably going to be down once the final numbers for 2018 are in. No doubt, this is probably because of the tension between the governments of the two nations over trade policies and tariffs. The proof is already in, by way of the some of the reports that came out during the month of October:
- The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) released its latest monthly report on Oct. 31, containing arrivals data for the first five months of 2018, and the numbers showed that, year-to-date, the number of Chinese visitors to the U.S. had dropped by 1.4 percent vs. 2017.
- A Washington Post article cited data and other testimonials which indicated that the number of Chinese visitors to the U.S. this year is down, and that the outlook for the near-term future is not bright.
- Year-over-year travel to the USA during the week-long Golden Week holiday showed that bookings to the U.S. were down by 40 percent.
Here is more detail on these three developments:
First, the release last week of NTTO data for the first five months of 2018 suggest that, unless there is some miraculous turnaround in the trend line, inbound traffic to the U.S. from China will decline for the first time—ever—since China became a serious source market for the United States.
Second, as the Washington Post put it, “The nascent decline — visible in visa approvals and airline bookings — isn’t the result of official action by Beijing. But it highlights a potent weapon that China could use if the trade war persists: slashing the $60 billion that Chinese consumers spend each year on American services such as travel and tourism. Already, 102,000 fewer Chinese people received business, leisure and educational visas from May through September of this year compared with the same period last year, a 13 percent drop, according to State Department statistics.”
Third, consider Golden Week, which was the first week of October. (Along with the Chinese New Year, the Oct. 1 National Day, which celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China and which kicked off Golden Week, is one of China’s two biggest holidays.). According to the Ctrip-owned search engine Skyscanner, the U.S. saw a sharp decline in Chinese visitors with this year’s Golden Week, with flight bookings to the country down 41 percent compared with last year’s Golden Week. This year, seven million Chinese were expected to go abroad for Golden Week. The 7 million number represents more than 5 percent of all overseas travelers who leave from China annually. In fact, the popularity of the U.S. as a destination dropped to No. 11—down from No. 5 last year.