China claims its citizens are 'reluctant' to travel to US given trade war, safety concerns

A downturn in Chinese tourism could certainly cause pain. Overall, nearly 3 million Chinese tourists visit the U.S. annually and spending has topped $30 billion in recent years, according to figures from the National Travel and Tourism Office, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration agency.

ITA declined comment for this story. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Still, U.S. travel officials insist they are not seeing any slowdown in Chinese tourism just yet.

“There are constant questions about whether a news moment has resulted in a dip in travel, but data trends simply do not happen in real time,” said Jonathan Grella, an executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association. “So there is no econometric evidence yet that travel from China to the U.S. has flattened or decreased.”

Laurie Armstrong Gossy, a spokesperson for San Francisco Travel, said China is the city’s “number one market in visitor spending” and added that the latest statistics “don’t reflect any impact [from the trade spat]. We may know more at the end of the summer.”

“It is to early to determine what kind of impact this may have, and we will continue to aggressively market Las Vegas as the greatest travel destination around the world,” said Amanda Peters, a spokesperson for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Visit Florida, said there were nearly 300,000 Chinese travelers last year that visited the Sunshine State. “China is a very important market for Florida’s tourism industry. We are confident that our world-class shopping, theme parks and sightseeing will continue to draw more and more Chinese visitors to Florida.”

Even so, escalating tensions could have an impact. Chorzempa said there are cases in China of at least one hotel putting what it calls a “tariff” on American visitors as part of the retaliation against the trade tussle. “We can expect that kind of nationalist sentiment to rise as the trade war ramps up,” he said.

There’s a history of the Chinese using tourism as an economic weapon to punish other countries.

Last year, South Korea’s tourism industry was on the receiving end of the wrath of Beijing’s anger over installing the U.S.-built THAAD anti-missile defense system. Beijing launched a South Korean tourism boycott that led to a halt of packaged tours and reportedly cost the economy nearly $7 billion before it ended in late 2017.

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