Skift Take

U.S. tourism marketing officials are hoping that air service to China — a vital tourism market — improves later this year.

U.S. destination marketing organizations plan to ramp up their marketing activities in China later this year. How much depends on progress the two governments make on restoring air service to pre-pandemic levels. 

In the coming weeks, U.S. destination marketing organizations are making their first sales trips to China. In August and September, Visit California and New York City Tourism + Conventions will make their first sales missions to China since the pandemic.

 “A lot of destination marketing organizations are already planning to travel to China to start to actually solicit business,” said Tour America CEO Gloria Lan. “I’m also actually debating whether I should actually start going, like to join California’s or New York, on the road show too because you need to know and see how things are.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, China was the U.S.’s fifth largest tourism market. Over 2.8 million Chinese tourists came to the U.S. in 2019, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. This year, there are expected to be 849,000 Chinese tourists in the U.S. — 30% of its pre-pandemic level. 

Weekly flights are nowhere near where they were in 2019. The number of weekly flights between the U.S. and China sit at 24 — down from about 350 per week before the pandemic. 

“The demand is pretty high in China for the U.S.,” said Brand USA Senior vice President of Integrated Marketing Staci Mellman. “The capacity access is just really struggling.” 

The flight limits have remained largely due to strained relations between the U.S. and China and concern over the use of Russia airspace.

While air service remains limited, some destination marketing organizations have been trying to keep themselves in the mind of Chinese tourists. “You don’t want to have the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thing happen, so we do have some smaller investments in China,” said San Francisco Travel Chief Marketing Officer Lynn Bruni-Perkins.

Through the pandemic, New York City Tourism + Conventions has been maintaining an active social media presence on Chinese social media platforms Weibo and WeChat. New York will ramp marketing as more flights resume service and restrictions on outbound group travel relax. 

But until air connectivity improves, some destination marketing organizations don’t plan to make large scale investments in China. Meet Boston’s reinvestment in China depends on when Hainan’s direct flights from Boston to Shanghai and Beijing are restored, said a Meet Boston spokesperson.

Visit California doesn’t have any active marketing campaigns in China, but it plans to start later in 2023. Brand USA is holding off on making significant marketing investments in China and is looking for potential marketing opportunities in the fall.  

“We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode as access returns,” said Mellman.


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Tags: boston, california, china, china outbound, destination marketing, new york city, nyc, san francisco

Photo credit: Hangzhou, China. Photo Credit: Alessio Lin on Unsplash Alessio Lin / Unsplash

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