China, US exchange tourism boom

Updated: 2012-09-19 00:04

By XIE CHUANJIAO in Qingdao, Shandong and AN BAIJIE in Beijing (China Daily)

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China and the United States have become each other's fourth-largest tourist destinations, with nearly 3.5 million tourists traveling between the two countries last year, according to China's top tourism official.

Shao Qiwei, head of China's National Tourism Administration, said on Tuesday that more than 1.36 million Chinese travelers visited the US last year, an annual increase of 17.6 percent. The number of US travelers to China reached more than 2.11 million last year.

"I believe that the number of tourists traveling between China and the US will reach 5 million in 2015," Shao said at the sixth China-US Tourism Leadership Summit held in Qingdao, East China's Shandong province, on Tuesday.

Established in 2007, the summit is a platform for both countries' authorities to boost tourism.

Chinese tourists spent a total of $7.7 billion in the US last year, an average of $7,107 for each tourist, which helped create 210,000 jobs in the US, Shao said. Tourists from the US spent $3.3 billion in China last year, an average of $2,348 for each tourist.

Shao said Chinese travelers stayed an average of 11 days in the US, while US tourists stayed 12.6 days in China on average.

Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the US Travel Association, said that the tourism industry is expected to stimulate economic growth for both countries.

"As the global economy remains challenged, we understand the value of travel," Dow told the summit. "We understand its potential to create millions of new jobs and billions of dollars of GDP."

The US processed more than 1 million visa applications from China last year, an increase of 34 percent compared with 2010, he said.

To make it easier for Chinese people to visit the US, the US authorities have made significant progress in improving the visa process.

"Wait times for interviews have decreased dramatically, with wait times at all consulates in China at less than five days throughout August," Dow said.

Tian Ping, general manager of China Travel Service Shandong Ltd, expects to see continuous growth with the improvement in the visa process.

The company saw a fivefold year-on-year increase in the number of visitors to the US in the first eight months this year, she said.

"That the visa process has been simplified and sped up by the US is a major contribution to this increase, as 80 to 90 percent of the applicants are able to get visas," Tian said. "The US market is likely to gain more of the share of tourists who might otherwise visit other destinations like Europe."

Dai Bin, president of China Tourism Academy, said there is still plenty of room for the US to improve its services for Chinese tourists, such as having its websites, TV programs and restaurants provide more Chinese-language services.

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Tan Zongyang contributed to this story.