Skift Take

The U.S. got a big boost from the vaccine rule drop for international inbound travelers. This won't fill the hole left by Chinese tourists.

International travel to the U.S. has been recovering faster since the U.S. lifted its vaccine requirement for inbound travelers in May, said Brand USA CEO and President Chris Thompson at a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday. The absence of China, however, will prevent a full recovery.

Brand USA is a public-private partnership responsible for promoting international travel into the United States. The Covid-19 vaccine requirement had been a barrier to restoring international inbound travel, said Thompson. In June 2022, the U.S. lifted its Covid testing requirement but had kept the one for vaccines. 

“When it was still in place, it did cause some hesitation and probably a lack of travel to the United States,”  Thompson told the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion in a hearing titled “Oversight and Implementation of Travel and Tourism Legislation.”

The requirement’s removal has given the industry a boost. “Certainly since then, the demand for international travel, particularly transient leisure travel, has been greater than probably ever in the history of the country,” said Thompson.

It won’t be enough to make up for the low number of Chinese tourists. “Until we get a return of Asia, in particular China, we won’t have a full recovery, “ he said.

Before the pandemic, China was the U.S.’s fourth top market, having sent over 2.3 million tourists in 2019, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office

China fully opened its borders earlier this year after implementing strict lockdowns and travel restrictions for over two years, but U.S. destinations have not seen them return in serious numbers.

The U.S. welcomed over 540,000 Chinese tourists from May 2022 through April, down 81 percent from 2019 for the same period, according to Skift Research.

Tourist flows from other countries are heading toward a recovery, said Thompson. Some flows are doing very well. “We expect many markets to exceed pre-pandemic levels by early next year,” he said.

Correction: This story has been updated to say 540,000 Chinese tourists visited the U.S. from May 2022 through April 2023. It previously stated 540,000 visited only in April 2023.


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Tags: brand usa, china, government, international travel, tourism

Photo credit: Brand USA President and CEO Christopher Thompson, President at the Senate hearing

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