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Wealthy Chinese tourists cancelled leisure trips to the U.S. due to shutdown

 Chinese tourists in the United States

For many in the tourism industry, the U.S. government’s partial shutdown could not come at a worse time. The week the United States closed its national parks, monuments and museums coincides with Golden Week, designated by the Chinese government as a time for its citizens to travel.
The United States was named the top “dream destination” for Chinese travelers, which make up the fastest-growing tourism market into the United States. But the dream vacation for many Chinese tourists has turned into a nightmare, according to Haybina Hao, director of international development for the National Tour Association, whose tour operators and other members focus on travel into and within North America.
“Many Chinese visitors have saved for years to take the trip of a lifetime to our country. They wanted to see Yellowstone, the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon,” Hao said. “But they’re seeing none of it. They are extremely frustrated and confused by U.S. politics.”
While Chinese travelers are losing a golden opportunity, U.S. tour operators are losing money. “I had a group of 25 Chinese visitors who planned to visit Yellowstone this week, but they cannot get in,” said Sonny Sang of California-based ACC America China Connection, a member of NTA’s China Inbound Program. “I re-routed them to another destination, but I’ll lose $10,000 on this group. And I have another group of 22 arriving on Sunday to see Yellowstone. The financial consequences are unbearable for me as a small tour operator.”
More and more Chinese have been arriving since 2008, when China began to allow leisure travelers to visit the United States in group tours. Since then, China has become the fastest-growing source of visitors for U.S. hotels, restaurants and attractions. Last year Chinese visitation here increased 41 percent, and spending by Chinese travelers rose 19 percent, following 47 percent increases in both 2010 and 2011.
Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines, LLC and Publisher of luxury travel magazines in Chinese language such as the Shanghai Travelers’ Club, Luxury Hotels of America or Niuyue Mag, said “ We have reports of  very affluent Chinese tourists who have cancelled at the last minute their luxury shopping trip to the U.S. because of the shutdown. Knowing that they would have spent millions of dollars in shopping in the U.S., it’a direct and measurable loss for the U.S. economy”
Now they just need a place to spend it. “The tour operators I talked to are really scrambling to find alternative activities, including a tour operator who has more than 20 groups in the U.S. this week.” Hao said. “Compared to other countries that utilize creative ways to lure Chinese tourists, the U.S. shutdown will shatter the confidence of international travel companies.”
Many U.S. tour operators have become creative in salvaging their groups’ experiences, including Neil Amrine, owner of Guide Service of Washington (DC). “The biggest disappointment is the Smithsonian being closed, but we’re coming up with other solutions,” said Amrine, who revised the itinerary for a group of Chinese travelers this week, adding for-profit attractions and employing little-known pathways to view popular monuments. “They weren’t thrilled at first, but I think they’ll leave happy.”
The challenge for tour operators—and for the entire U.S. tourism industry—is to work with city and regional tourism organizations to develop alternatives to national parks and monuments that will satisfy travelers. Most are finding a wealth of options across the country, from California to Washington, D.C. At the same time, they’re keeping an eye on continuing closures and tourism roadblocks caused by the shutdown.
“We’re fielding calls nonstop and posing alternatives that are working,” Amrine said. “We’ve had only one group cancel, so we’ve been lucky… so far.”
As Gervois concluded” The purchasing power of Chinese inbound tourists in the United States is now so important for the country’s economy than it’s more than ever necessary to reach a bipartisan consensus to protect the travel and tourism industries’ interests”
Source: Global Travel Industry News

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U.S. Travel Association applauds Congress for U.S. Visa System and traveler facilitation reforms for Chinese tourists

The U.S. Travel industry worked with Congressional appropriators to secure significant victories related to U.S. visa system and traveler facilitation reforms in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012. The legislation reflects 2011 advocacy efforts by the U.S. Travel Association to improve the U.S. economy, remove barriers to travel and improve the travel process.

The U.S. Travel industry worked with Congressional appropriators to secure significant victories related to U.S. visa system and traveler facilitation reforms in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012. The legislation reflects 2011 advocacy efforts by the U.S. Travel Association to improve the U.S. economy, remove barriers to travel and improve the travel process.

“This legislation is an acknowledgment by Congress that reforms to the U.S. visa and entry systems and passenger screening process are key to improving our nation’s economy,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Clearly, the travel community is being heard, and we applaud Congress for addressing these issues.”

“The extended visa expiration period for affluent Chinese tourists doing frequent luxury shopping tours to the U.S. is an excellent news for the U.S. luxury retail industry” said Pierre Gervois, an expert in marketing to wealthy Chinese outbound tourists and member of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. “That will mean more wealthy Chinese customers spending more money in U.S. luxury shopping malls and flagship stores, and creating more american jobs in the luxury retail industry”

U.S. VISA SYSTEM REFORM – The Act mirrors a number of recommendations put forth by the U.S. Travel Association in a May 2011 report on the U.S. visa system. That report identified visa wait times, visa validity periods and videoconferencing technology as keys to improving a system that cannot meet demand in emerging economies with growing markets of international travelers.

Initiatives championed by U.S. Travel and included in the consular affairs section of the bill include:
Visa Wait Time Reductions – To reduce the number of days applicants must wait before their visa application interview, the bill directs the Secretary of State to hire a sufficient number of consular officers, including limited non-career appointment (LNA) officers, in China, Brazil and India. These LNA officers will give the State Department hiring flexibility to meet increasing visa demand in the coming years.
Better Metrics and Long-Term Planning – Congress directs the Secretary of State to report on the steps it will take to reduce current visa processing wait times but also to submit a 5-year forecast of visa demand in Brazil, China and India. The plan should outline the number of consular officers necessary to meet the Department’s 30 day visa processing standard. Congress also directs the State Department to compare its forecast with the Commerce Department’s visitor projections in order to allow it to produce better long-term plans.
Extended Visa Expiration Period – A plan must be developed by the State Department to extend expiration periods for leisure or business visas that require a consular officer interview. The visa validity period for Chinese citizens is only one year, and U.S. Travel has recommended extending the visa validity period to five or 10 years, common with other countries, so business and leisure travelers do not have to undergo the visa renewal process annually and State can better meet demand of new applicants in China.
Secure Videoconferencing Technology – Congress has cleared the Secretary of State to develop and conduct a pilot program to conduct visa interviews for leisure and business visas using secure remote videoconferencing technology. With limited consular offices in emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India, the addition of remote secure videoconferencing would allow more citizens to apply for U.S. visas.
U.S. ENTRY & EXIT SYSTEM REFORM – The Act includes a number of significant improvements to the entry and exit process at U.S. air and land ports of entry.
Increased Staffing – The bill provides funding to hire an additional 300 new Customs and Border Protection Officers to improve processing of inbound travelers at land border crossings and international U.S. airports.
More Oversight of Operations – The bill requires CBP to report to the Congress on its long-term staffing plans and implementation of key entry reforms such as trusted traveler programs and elimination of unnecessary rescreening of international travelers and baggage.
Air Exit System – The bill provides $9.4 million to the development of a comprehensive plan for enhancements of a biographic air exit program to bolster security and allow for further expansion of the Visa Waiver Program.
DOMESTIC AVIATION FACILITATION REFORM – The Act makes a series of recommendations designed to improve the efficiency of traveler facilitation including:
Congressional Reports on Efficiency – TSA must submit to Congress reports on passenger and baggage screening efficiency and on how its workforce is being deployed at the nation’s airports to maintain average wait times below 10 minutes. As a recent U.S. Travel survey showed, an overwhelming majority of passengers are frustrated with screening checkpoints. The bill also encourages TSA to utilize privatized screening where more cost-effective.
Trusted Traveler – To help implement recommendations akin the U.S. Travel Blue Ribbon Panel on Aviation Security, the bill provides TSA $10M to implement risk-based screening and to expand known-traveler populations beyond the current PreCheck program.

In 2012, the U.S. Travel Association will pursue policies on behalf of the travel industry, many of which will create much-needed U.S. jobs and improve the economy. These include legislative vehicles for additional visa system reform, expanding the Visa Waiver Program, enhancing the entry process at ports of entry, and improving the efficiency of the U.S. air travel system.

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