The American dream comes true

(By Yang Feiyue and Erik Nilsson(China Daily) )

Updated: 2015-12-07 10:47:04

Rising Chinese visitor volumes to the United States are expected to surge even more in 2016, following the liberalization of visa rules a year ago. Yang Feiyue and Erik Nilsson report.

The US-China Tourism Year starting next month will likely make the swelling stream of Chinese washing over US shores a torrent.

So will the increase of flights. And tour discounts.

Chinese visa applications increased 41 percent since the announcement during the APEC conference in Beijing in November 2014 that China and the United States would adopt a reciprocal multi-entry 10-year tourism visa policy.

Nearly 99 percent of applicants get visas, says Yan Xin, publicity manager of China's largest online travel agency, Ctrip.

US officials have processed about 2.5 million Chinese visas since the APEC announcement, Jing Daily reports.

Over 560,000 Chinese visited the United States in the first quarter of this year, a fifth more than the same period last year. About 2.2 million Chinese visited in 2014, spending $24 billion, reports the US' official tourism promotion organ, Brand USA. Chinese rank No 2 in US visitor spending, Jing Daily reports.

"Experienced" Chinese travelers, at 17 percent, said the United States topped their travel wish list if costs weren't a concern, CNN reported in January 2014. The visa policy announced 10 months later has proven the magic wand to make their American dreams come true.

What this has already meant is that Chinese are traveling beyond gateways like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

That said, LA expects double-digit increases over the next three years, during which NYC expects 1.2 million Chinese.

"Among the global tourists (to the US) we received, Chinese visitors accounted for 50 percent, becoming the biggest force," says Roland Shi, a tour guide from L&L Travel in New York.

But Chinese are expanding their explorations.

About 40 percent say they visited a US national park.

More than 20 US destinations' tourism departments, including Texas, Minnesota, Hawaii and California, staged promotional events in Shanghai, riding the momentum of Chinese President Xi Jinping's announcement of the tourism year during his US visit this September.

US authorities will support Chinese travel agencies' route development.

Ctrip has signed deals for next year with tourism authorities from Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Travel agencies also hope to extend beyond gateways by diversifying routes by theme.

They'll create itineraries designed around road trips, islands, sports, shopping and museums next year.

Hawaii, Guam and Saipan are expected to be leading US destinations for Chinese in 2016, Yan says.

Individual travelers to the islands have already doubled this year.

Ctrip will develop group trips for fewer than 20 next year.

It will offer a 12-day group trip covering Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Hawaii from Shanghai in January.

Individual travelers can hire a Chinese-speaking driver for 10 days through New York, Philadelphia, DC, Niagara Falls and Boston for roughly 21,000 yuan ($3,300) a person.

"Tourists don't have to spend a lot to enjoy custom-made service," Yan says.

The agency's seven-day trip through Boston, New York, Philadelphia and DC at the end of October was booked two weeks after it went online.

New York has marketed nine-day tours, highlighting local fashion and culture.

"We want Chinese tourists to spend their time in New York as locals do," says Feng Xuan, tourism-marketing manager for New York at the Shanghai office of Brand USA.

In addition to the popular sites like the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and Wall Street, lesser-known options will be added to itineraries.

These include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, South of Houston and citywide helicopter tours that zoom into the skyline from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport.

More flights mean the average cost of US trips within 10 days will drop to 10,000 yuan next year from the current 15,000-25,000 yuan.

Air China International Corp launched four direct flights a week to Newark on Oct 26.

China Eastern Airlines will connect Shanghai to New York and Los Angeles at the end of this year, and Shanghai to Chicago in March.

"We expect more tourist inquiries next year-exceeding the current 50 percent increase," Yan says.

Destinations like California and New York have joined the China Ready project, where local travel agencies and service personnel receive training to satisfy Chinese tourists' needs.

Brand USA is now introducing destinations with different elements to the Chinese market, including modern cities, rural areas, national parks and romantic islands.

"Chinese-language logos and Chinese-speaking service personnel will be available," says the Shanghai office's publicity director, Anita Jia.

"We continue to look forward to double-digit growth in the number of Chinese tourists next year."

Tourists will have access to Chinese breakfasts and water heaters at hotels.

Chinese-speaking shopping guides and sales personnel will staff major shopping sites during Christmas.

DC, New York, Las Vegas, Boston, Hawaii and Seattle are the most popular destinations for Chinese.

But the momentum of the coming year's promotions, flights and discounts, impelled by the visa liberalization, means Chinese will be discovering US destinations not yet on their maps.