The United States tourism industry is facing a problem: A drop in the number of Chinese visiting U.S. cities and states.
Close to 3 million Chinese traveled to the country last year. They spent quite a lot of money. The U.S. Travel Association estimates they spent an average of $6,700 per person per trip. That amount is more than 50 percent higher than the average spending of international tourists, the group said.
But the number of visitors from China dropped nearly 4 percent in the first six months of this year. This follows a nearly 6% drop in 2018.
Chinese travelers will account for a quarter of all global tourism by 2030, according to industry projections.
Reasons for the Drop in Chinese Tourists
Tourism industry experts say there could be several reasons for the smaller number of visitors.
Theresa Belpulsi is with Destination DC, the tourism marketing office for Washington, DC. She thinks one of the reasons is trade tensions between the two countries.
"With the trade war, with some of the travel warnings, with some of our visa challenges that we've had, we've seen a little bit of a dip in Chinese visitors," she said.
"The U.S. is just losing market share," notes Adam Sacks, president of advisory service Tourism Economics. "Something's made the U.S. uncompetitive, and I would target the trade war as one of the reasons."
Larry Yu is a professor of hospitality management at George Washington University. He says that people are slow to forget the idea that a country has an unwelcoming environment.
"The trade war creates a kind of environment in China that makes people think twice," Yu said. "Even though we know that Chinese demand is high, the current environment makes people substitute the U.S. for another place."
China's government has published two warnings for Chinese interested in visiting the United States: One was about gun violence; the other, about harassment by U.S. law enforcement.
In a related issue, visa approvals for Chinese visitors have become more difficult. The U.S. rejection rate of Chinese tourist visa applications reached 17 perncet in the 12 months from October 2017 to September of 2018. Five years earlier, the rate was a much lower 8.5 percent.
U.S. tourism competitors are also taking steps to attract Chinese travelers. The European Travel Commission has joined with Chinese representatives at travel shows and partnered with Chinese media personalities to share videos and social media posts.
The commission notes that Europe welcomed 14 million Chinese tourists last year.
U.S. Travel Industry Tries to Get More Tourists
Adam Sacks of Tourism Economics says he hopes that local travel marketing agencies across the country can help raise the number of Chinese tourists.
The District of Columbia, for one, has increased its advertising and programs for China. Destination DC's latest plan is to offer hotel discounts for the Lunar New Year in 2020. The plan includes a number of events and performances aimed at Chinese tourists.
San Francisco has used social media to reach out to Chinese tourists. The city created ads that drove some 12 million people to a contest showcasing the city's famous landmarks. The San Francisco Travel Association says the city used two popular Chinese apps, WeChat and Weibo, for the campaign.
At the same time, tourism marketing agencies for U.S. cities and states are trying to reach countries other than China. Utah and Los Angeles, among others, are trying to expand their presence in nations like India.
"There's a great deal of interest," said Jamie Foley of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. "But that comes with the understanding that India is very different from China."
Even with the drop in Chinese tourists, some experts note how important China will be to the U.S. tourism industry for years to come.
"The trade war's an important subject, but it's seen as a temporary setback," said Sage Brennan, co-founder of the company China Luxury Advisors. "Over the next 20 to 30 years, China is going to continue to impact and shape the tourism market."