Throngs of Chinese visitors to US expected amid upcoming holidays
Visa restrictions, safety concerns still turn many away
Published: Jan 21, 2020 09:03 PM

Photo: VCG

The number of Chinese tourists going to the US is expected to rise significantly during the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, as trade tensions have eased following the phase one trade agreement and costs are dropping sharply thanks to the strengthening yuan against the US dollar.

However, many Chinese travelers will stay away from visiting the US as they still face tightening US visa policies and safety concerns over a rising number of incidents of gun violence and petty crimes, Chinese travelers and experts said on Tuesday.

The US ranks second in a ranking for the most popular long-distance overseas destinations for Chinese tourists during the Chinese New Year peak season, according to a report from online travel agency Ctrip. The US was followed by Italy, New Zealand and the UK. 

Graphics: GT

Graphics: GT

However, neighboring countries such as Japan, Thailand and Singapore remain the top overseas destinations for Chinese travelers during the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on Saturday, the report showed. 

"The phase one agreement earlier this month means an easing in the bilateral relationship. That might be an encouraging sign for some tourists," Jiang Yiyi, professor of the Leisure Sports and Tourism School of the Beijing Sport University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

"An increase or decrease in tourist numbers on either side is one of the most important indicators of the bilateral relationship," Jiang said.

Apart from thawing trade tensions, the strengthening yuan against the US dollar might also provide some incentives to tourists. The yuan has gained 0.8 percent against the dollar in the first 20 days of 2020, according to market data on Tuesday.

The price of travel packages to the US during the Chinese Lunar New Year also declined by 5.1 percent this year to about 10,234 yuan ($1,482.24) per person on average, according to Ctrip. 

At the height of trade tensions, the number of Chinese tourists going to the US during last year's Chinese Lunar New Year, which fell in middle February, plunged 15.5 percent year-on-year to about 207,500, according to data from the US' National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO). 

During the January-October period, the number dropped by 5.5 percent year-on-year to about 2.52 million. 

Before the bilateral trade relations soured in 2018, the number of Chinese visitors to the US had been growing at around 25 percent annually for a decade, according to some reports.

The decline in Chinese visitors to the US came after the Chinese government issued security alerts for trips to the US. But the US' tightening of visa policies for Chinese tourists was to blame for the decline rather than China's security alerts, Jiang said. 

"The alerts were not restrictions, but tighter US visa policies and the cooling of bilateral trade activities caused the sharp drop in Chinese visitors to the US," she said.

Restrictions remain 

Andy, who runs a business in Beijing that helps travelers with visa applications, said that the approval rate for US visa applications has been declining, though many are still able to get a tourist visa. "It depends on where you work," he told the Global Times, noting that applicants working in what US deems "sensitive sectors" such as technology are more likely to be denied a visa.

Many have also reported extra scrutiny upon arrival in the US. Also, rising reports of gun violence and other crimes in the US deterred many to depart for the US.

Anticipating a "significant increase" in Chinese visitors during the Chinese Lunar New Year, the Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles warned Chinese citizens to avoid dangerous areas with poor public security and dense populations. The Chinese Consulate General in New York also issued similar warning last week.

"When you watch the news of the shooting incidents in the US, it is quite scary because apparently everyone has a gun there," Shen Xian, a resident in Southwest China's Sichuan Province who planned a sightseeing trip in the US, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

"But for me and my wife, the biggest issue is getting a visa. We have been told that it is very difficult to get a permit these days, especially for those who don't have many records of overseas travel," he said.

Still, Jiang said that if the bilateral relationship continues to improve after signing of the phase one trade agreement, more and more Chinese visitors will queue up for a flight to the US.

Despite recent declines, the NTTO said in a forecast that the number of Chinese arrivals to the US will grow by one percent this year to about 2.9 million and four percent in 2021 to 3 million.