Skift Take

It's good news that Chinese tourism will recover faster than expected. Weak air connectivity remains a problem.

The U.S. travel industry will see a full recovery in Chinese and Japanese tourism by 2026 — one year earlier than previously projected, according to the U.S. National and Travel Tourism Office’s latest annual forecast released Tuesday.

But both China and Japan will behind the rest of the U.S.’ source markets – the office expects international travel to the U.S. to fully recover in 2025.

“Both Japan and China will exceed 2019 levels, but it’s going to be one year later [than other markets],” said David Huether, deputy director for the National Travel and Tourism Office, during a webinar to discuss the forecast. “This is actually an improvement. In last year’s forecast, these two countries didn’t even recover in the window overall.”

Huether noted China and Japan outpaced other markets and started to pick up in 2023, the year both countries started to reopen to international travel. Japanese visitation rose 154% and Chinese visitation increased by 190% in 2023, he said.

“[China was] the eighth-largest source market last year,” said Jackie Ennis, vice president of global trade development at Brand USA.

Huether said that before the pandemic, China was the U.S.’s third-largest source market in terms of volume. 

Brand USA CEO and President Chris Thompson told Skift in 2023 that Chinese tourists spent over $30 billion in 2019, making them the U.S.’ highest spenders.

Barriers to Chinese Tourism to the U.S.

Huether cited China’s weak economy and flight restrictions as reasons why China is behind other source markets. The war in Ukraine and and geopolitics continue to be barriers to the restoration of flights.

Air connectivity between China and the U.S. is 25% of its pre-pandemic level, said Ennis.

The U.S. government has been approving flights slowly. “Every single route has to be approved by the U.S. federal government versus just the commercial supply and demand issue, leading to this layering of route development,” said Visit California CEO and President Caroline Beteta in a previous interview with Skift.

In April, the aviation industry trade group Airlines for America sent a letter to the U.S. government asking for a pause on more passenger flights between China and the U.S.

Rising Airfares Discourage Some Japanese Travelers 

Ennis said that due to the lack of air connectivity between China and the U.S., many Chinese tourists are flying through Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei, lifting the airfares for Japanese travelers.

“Not only are the Japanese very risk averse in terms of coming to the U.S. immediately post-pandemic, but the cost factor is enormous,” she said. “We’re looking at really high rates out of Tokyo for the leisure traveler coming to the U.S.”


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Tags: china, international tourism, tourism

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