Skift Take

It's going to be another sluggish year for Chinese tourism to New York City and the U.S. overall.

Chinese tourists won’t be coming back to New York City at their pre-pandemic levels next year. Affordability and limited flights are two issues holding back the rebound, say travel executives.

“It is unaffordable at this moment for people from China, for the average visitor to come to the U.S.,” said Peter van Berkel, chairman of the International Inbound Travel Association and president of Travalco, a tour operator.

Van Berkel spoke at a panel last week with New York City tourism leaders, hosted by the Association for a Better New York.

Airfares have been too expensive for Chinese tourists. “Just this past year, we were talking about economy fares of more than $3,500 depending on time of year,” he said. 

Flights between the U.S. and China are nowhere near their pre-pandemic numbers. There were 120 nonstop flights between the countries during the week of December 11. The number will reach 126 for the second week of January, down from 674 for the same period in 2019, according to Cirium Diio.

Late Restart for Chinese Tourism to the U.S.

Chinese tourism has been slow to recover since the pandemic. The country was late lifting its Covid-era travel restrictions. The government has also been encouraging domestic over international travel, said van Berkel.

“They are running almost a year and a half behind the other markets,” he said. “Things will definitely improve. It’s not going to be a switch.” 

In August, China lifted its restrictions on group travel to the U.S. In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden said they plan to improve air connectivity.

Optimism for Chinese Tourists—New York City’s Top Spenders

Some New York executives are optimistic about Chinese tourism next year. “I’m very bullish on China,” said Vijay Dandapani, CEO and president of the Hotel Association of New York City. “China’s going to open up.”

Before the pandemic, China was one of New York City’s top tourist segments in terms of spend, NYC Tourism + Conventions CEO and President Fred Dixon told Skift in July. The city expects to receive over 380,000 Chinese tourists this year.

Chinese tourists stay long, spend more money and attend more than one show, said Allison French, senior director for Broadway Inbound.

Chinese Tourist Demand for Visas and Embassy Wait Times

Demand for first-time visitor visas in China has been down from its pre-pandemic levels, said van Berkel.

The State Department isn’t processing anywhere near the number of first-time visitor visas it was prior to the pandemic. “Pre-Covid we were doing I think probably five or six times what they’re doing today,” Julie Stufft, deputy assistant secretary for visa services, told Skift.

At the same time, visa wait times at some U.S. embassies are over a 100 days. In Shanghai, it’s 175 days, for example, according to the U.S. State Department’s website.

For the millions of Chinese citizens who need to renew their 10-year visas next year, the State Department plans to waive the interviews for most of them.


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Tags: china, international tourism, new york city, visa

Photo credit: Allison French, senior director of Broadway Inbound; Leecia Eve, member of board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Vijay Dandapani, CEO and president of the Hotel Association of New York City ; Peter van Berkel, chairman for the International Inbound Travel Association Dawit Habtemariam

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