US shutdown flummox Chinese travellers

Published on : Tuesday, October 8, 2013

US-shutdown1The 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.

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.

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“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.

Many U.S. tour operators have become creative in salvaging their groups’ experiences, includingNeil Amrine, owner of Guide Service of Washington (D.C.). “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.”

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