China’s surging economy has provided its citizens with a constellation of benefits that would have been scarcely imaginable even a decade ago. But of all China’s consumer-enabled freedoms, the opportunity for worldwide travel perhaps represents the nation’s biggest leap into modernity. After all, Chinese tour groups were forbidden from traveling to the U.S. until 2007. The following year, 493,000 Chinese tourists flooded America. That number has since grown to more than a million visitors annually. But that’s nothing compared to what’s to come: experts estimate arrivals to rise by 259 percent between 2011 and 2017.
Thanks to a growing middle class, many Chinese are experiencing world travel for the first time. They’re also exposed to brands and products that they can only dream about back home. So when your average Chinese tourists arrive on American soil, they tend to go a little crazy at the checkout counter. Each visitor spends about $6,000 per trip on consumer products alone. And since these expenditures technically qualify as exports, the U.S. ran a surplus of $4.4 billion in travel and tourism with China in 2011. In comparison, the government ran a $687 million deficit the year before tour groups were permitted to travel.
Still, some analysts fear that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to court Chinese tourists. First of all, the arduous act of entering the country turns off many potential travelers. Despite an improved visa application system, the seemingly endless lines for security and customs in American airports do little to convince visitors that they’re welcome. Furthermore, many tourists encounter friction from American retail and restaurant employees who resent the large groups and their demands. While most of this stems from simple frustration, at least one portion of it appears to be earned. In May a 15-year-old tourist made international headlines after he etched his name on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian sculpture. Millions took to Chinese social media to decry the teenager and insist that actions like this reflect poorly on everyone in the country. As more and more Chinese travel the world, one can only hope that respect will grow mutually strong between China’s tourists and their foreign hosts.
- Should the U.S. Commerce Department devote more efforts toward tourism?
- Why do foreign tourists consider the U.S. unfriendly?
Source: Mima Kimes, “The U.S.’s $4.4 Billion Surplus with China,” Fortune, February 19, 2013; Hiufu Wong, “Netizen Outrage After Chinese Tourist Defaces Egyptian Temple,” CNN, May 29, 2013. Photo by LA Electric.