We Think So: For the second year in a row, China is running behind the pace at which it had been sending visitors to the United States in 2017. Despite this, there seems to be a smattering of stubborn optimism popping up in recent weeks and months in different places which suggest that the market will recover. Even as the recent dispatches that acknowledge the downward slide in visitation to the U.S. from China were coming out, there have been hints and actions in recent weeks and months that American suppliers, receptive operators and our national DMO, Brand USA, are fixed on recovery.
- While its proprietary research and summaries of focus group interviews are not for public consumption during its recent board meeting, Brand USA officials would not have a problem in suggesting what we’ve heard elsewhere: the Chinese long-haul traveler really wants to travel to the United States—no matter what.
- Earlier this month, Zhihang Chi, vice president, North America, for Air China, said in a speech at the International Aviation Club of Washington D.C. that the U.S.-China trade war and poor relations have contributed in the decline of air travel between the two nations. As reported in Air Travel World, Chi said, “on the bilateral front, there has been nothing but standstill. … The U.S. government issued 42 percent fewer non-immigrant visas to Chinese travelers last year from 2017 levels,” adding, “We also see more and more Chinese visitors being subjected to secondary screening at US airports.” (The 42 percent figure doesn’t quite square with what other sources indicate. See chart at end of article.*)
Also complicating things, Chi said, was the US-China bilateral air transport agreement limits the number of frequencies between the US and China zone one cities, which include Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Despite this seemingly gloomy assessment of the situation, Chi concluded his remarks on an upbeat note, suggesting that China and the U.S. seem to be taking some steps toward resolving their disagreements: “There have been some hiccups, but right now, both countries want to hit the reset button and talk things over. … My belief is issues will probably be resolved, because I can’t envision a situation whereby the two countries are decoupled from each other.”
- During remarks at Connect Travel’s RTO Summit Florida in Orlando, Owen Teng, director of operations for Orlando-based New Creative Tours, Inc, explained that much of the anxiety over and weaker performance of the market had to do with the Chinese government’s warning in May 2019 (and the previous year as well) to travelers to be wary about visiting the U.S. because of violence and anti-Chinese sentiment. But, he added, “Remember, it’s still a new market. Don’t give up. Everything will come back.”
- Daniel Shen, chairman and founder of Los Angeles-based East West Marketing Corp.—it advises a number of destinations and U.S. suppliers in their dealings with the Chinese market—recently told INBOUND, “It’s mostly about the trade war between the U.S. and China. Everybody is aware of it …” But he was quick to point out that, even with a 5.7 percent decline, year-on-year, vs. 2017: “Remember, 3 million Chinese did visit.” He noted, too, that 5.7 percent equated to less than 200,000 fewer visitors—not a dire number. Of course, other than that, online sales are growing rapidly and, moreover, nowadays, there is greater movement to FITs, with more personal tailor-made itineraries than joining a tour group.
“Luckily, China is a big market. We’re talking about a 1.4 billion population. Even 3 million is a very small number compared with the global outbound from China (which the World Tourism Organization has placed at about 150 million visitors.). So, the numbers are there. We’ve just got to put a little more effort from the tourism side … and the government.”
- Is it 1.4 Billion or is It Really 20 Million? At the recent meeting of the board of directors of Brand USA, its chief marketing officer, Tom Garzilli, explained that the organization is crafting a new marketing strategy—one that will target the market for what U.S. traveler suppliers and DMOs are after—long-haul leisure travelers; that is, the 20 million Chinese who travelers have passports, have U.S. visas and book long-haul travel. Hence, a new China 20 Strategy.
The task of Brand USA in crafting its China 20 Strategy will be to:
—Identify and target the 20 million Chinese travelers with inspiring ad motivated messaging that invites and welcomes them to visit the United States.
—Provide specific tools and customized solutions to stakeholders that will help them identify and target this group as well.
—Develop a campaign crafted around this strategy.
- Besides, We’re Friends of Long Standing: During the board’s conversation on marketing to China, Board Member Noel Irwin Henstchel, chairman, CEO, and co-founder of AmericanTours International (ATI), pointed out that, in the early days of the development of the Chinese Visit USA market, most Chinese traveled mostly to key gateways cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York.
ATI found out that places not generally thought of sometimes have a special appeal to Chinese, such as Iowa. Iowa? Yes, Irwin Hentschel said, noting that Chinese President Xi Jinping once visited and stayed in Iowa (for several weeks in 1985 when he was part of a delegation studying agricultural technology. He returned in 2012 to visit “old friends” in the state during an official trip to the U.S. The connection goes deeper still: Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, a provincial governor in China, visited Iowa in 1980 as part of the first delegation of Chinese governors to visit America following the normalization of U.S.-Chinese diplomatic relations.) She also indicated that Chinese visitors have enjoyed the Asian Gardens in Des Moines, Iowa.
- Lastly, the number of students from China, who account for one-third of all international students in the United States, increased by 1.7 percent for the 2018-2019 school year, according to the just-released 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. (See article elsewhere in this issue of INBOUND.)
* China: B-Visa Refusal Rates
Source: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs