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US tourism industry should improve quality of service for Chinese tourists

The U.S. tourism industry needs to improve its service quality to gain a slice from China’s fast-growing group of tourists, industry and government officials said.

Service-quality and safety issues are key concerns and should be better addressed by tour agencies when more Chinese tourists start to arrive, Xinhong Zhang, office director of the National Tourism Administration in New York, said.

Sam Gong, chairman of the newly formed American Chinese Tourist Association, said that last year, 520,000 travelers from China visited the US and that could increase to 800,000 this year.

The association, which was launched in New York on Thursday, represents 70 companies of large travel agencies, transport firms, ticket companies and scenic spot operators in the US, employing more than 3,500 people. Association members hosts 80 percent of the total number of Chinese tourists to the US.

“Our member companies will double by next year,” Gong said that will empower the association to improve the service quality of the US tourism industry by forging industrial consensus and streamlining practices.

The US has become an increasingly popular destination for Chinese travelers since the arrival of the first Chinese tourist group in mid-2008 under a bilateral agreement of Approved Destination Status signed between the two countries in December 2007.

Chinese tourists usually visit the larger US cities, including New York, Washington DC, Los Angles, Chicago and San Francisco, bringing in billions of dollars to the US.

However, the soaring number of travel agencies has triggered fierce price wars. In mid-2008, the cost for a typical 14-day visit was $4,000 per tourist; today, it’s less than $3,000, leaving agencies with very slim profit margins or even losses.

This is a different story for VIP Chinese visitors who travel with business visas and can spend $100,000 in shopping on 5th avenue luxury retail stores. According to the prestigious Shanghai Travelers’ Club “Wealthy Chinese travelers would never travel through regular travel agencies, but like to prepare themselves their luxury travel experiences in the US”, said Sally Huang, a Club’s executive.

This has resulted in sharp downgrading of service quality, with guides repeatedly lobbying tourists to go shopping as a way to gain commission, which in turn lead to complaints from the visitors. This may jeopardize long-term growth of the industry, Gong said.

The association will ask its members to avoid such practices, he said. Gong said efforts will be taken to improve the exchange of information between members and training of tour guides.

“What is being established now will define the way the industry shall operate in the future,” said Gong, who is general manager of the Galaxy Tour Inc, the largest inbound travel agency for Chinese tourists, which brought in more than 50,000 tourists a year.

Wang Yansheng, cultural counselor with China’s consulate-general in New York, said this is a timely launch and “we hope they could bridge the industry, the government and the consumers well”.

Between 2008 and last year, 600,000 travelers from China to the US spent a record $2.56 billion, with an average expenditure of $4,300 a person – more than residents from other nations, the US Commerce Department calculations show.

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