According to a survey by tourism marketing firm Brand USA, Chinese travelers were the only group that claimed the political climate in the United States under President Donald Trump has made them more likely to visit than before. This is in stark contrast to every other market surveyed, where respondents said the political climate had decreased their likelihood of visiting the US.
Trump and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping will meet at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida this week in what Trump expects will be a “very difficult” summit. Trump last week took to Twitter to warn that “American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives” to China. And his post-inaugural phone call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, his questioning of America’s commitment to the One-China policy, as well as labeling China the “grand champions” of currency manipulation have given Chinese policymakers plenty of reasons to be wary of the new administration.
In the Brand USA survey, respondents were given a multiple-choice list of factors influencing travel plans, including political climate. Among the countries surveyed, Mexicans showed the most concern, followed by Canadians, Germans, Australians, Britons, and the French — all of whom showed moderate concern. Travelers from India, Japan, Brazil, and South Korea were less sensitive to the political climate but still showed a decreased likelihood of visiting the United States. In the three-month period from December to February, Chinese respondents were the only ones to indicate they were more likely to visit the United States because of the political climate there.
According to a separate report by ForwardKeys, a company that predicts travel patterns, Trump’s second (blocked) travel ban caused a drop in bookings across most of the world. In that report, the Asia Pacific was found to be the least affected — showing 4.9% increase in bookings compared with the year before.
Why Chinese travelers’ are sanguine about travel to Trump’s United States is open to question. On the one hand, it could indicate relative confidence in a US led by Trump. But it could also indicate that Chinese travelers fear that the United States’ unsettled relationship with China may cause heightened travel restrictions in the future — making the currently tense political climate a good reason to visit sooner rather than later. Trump’s repeated pledge to make the United States a safer place may also resonate with Chinese tourists, who are known for being security-conscious. A perceived lower risk of terror attacks and violent crime should, therefore, make Chinese travelers more willing to visit the US.
There’s a lot at stake for Chinese travelers and US tourism stakeholders when Trump and Xi meet. Under Barack Obama, the number of Chinese tourists visiting the US each year grew from 493,000 in 2008 to 2.6 million in 2015. Spending grew five-fold in the same period, reaching US$30 billion in 2015, according to the US department of commerce. China currently ranks as the United States’ fifth most important tourism source market and is projected to overtake Japan as the United States’ fourth largest tourism market. For Chinese tourists, agreements between China and the Obama administration made it easier for Chinese tourists to visit the United States. The 10-year multiple-entry visa for Chinese citizens has encouraged repeat visits of high-spending Chinese tourists, as well as a rise in Chinese independent travelers to the US.
However, Trump’s anti-Chinese rhetoric and proposed travel bans against Muslim-majority countries have put the future of such initiatives into question. Trump’s heavy emphasis on creating jobs in America could make Chinese tourism an excellent bargaining chip for Xi during his summit with Trump. When the United States agreed to introduce 10-year visas for Chinese travelers in 2014, a White House official told journalists that the policy could create up to 440,000 new US jobs by 2021 — a significant boost to the domestic job market.
It remains to be seen what the Trump-Xi summit will mean for Chinese tourism. Until then, Chinese travelers are more excited than ever about visiting the United States.
This article was originally published on Jing Travel.