According to a survey conducted by Brand USA, Chinese travelers were the only group of visitors that claimed that the political climate in the United States under Donald Trump has made them more likely to visit than before. This puts Chinese travelers in stark contrast to every other market surveyed, where respondents said that the political climate had decreased their likelihood of visiting the United States.
American President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will be meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida later this week, in what Trump expects will be a “very difficult” summit. Leading up to the meeting, Trump last week took to Twitter to say that “American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives” to China in addressing the upcoming meeting between the two state leaders. After accepting a phone call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen after winning the election, openly questioning U.S. commitment to the “One-China” policy, as well as calling China “grand champions” of currency manipulation, Chinese policymakers have many reasons to be wary of the Trump administration.
While Chinese policymakers may be less thrilled about Trump’s America, Brand USA’s survey suggests that Trump’s election has led to an increased interest among Chinese people to visit the United States. In the survey, respondents are given a multiple-choice list of factors influencing travel plans, one of which evaluates the influence of the political climate on travel decisions. Among the countries surveyed, Mexican nationals showed the most concern, followed by Canada, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom, and France—which all showed moderate concern. Travelers from India, Japan, Brazil, and South Korea were less sensitive to the political climate than respondents from other countries but still showed a decreased likelihood in visiting the United States. In the three-month period between December 2016 and February 2017, Chinese respondents were the only group of respondents which had gotten more likely to visit the United States because of the U.S. political climate.
According to a separate report by ForwardKeys, a company that predicts future travel patterns, Trump’s second halted travel ban also sent shockwaves through the world, causing a drop in forward bookings across most of the world. In that report, Asia Pacific was also found to be the least affected—showing 4.9 percent increase in bookings compared to the year before.
However, the reasons for Chinese travelers’ relative excitement about travel to the United States following Trump’s inauguration remain debatable. On the one hand, it could indicate relative confidence in a United States led by Donald Trump, but on the other hand, it could also indicate that Chinese travelers fear that the United States’ fraught relationship with China may cause heightened travel restrictions in the future—making the currently tense political climate a good reason to visit the United States sooner rather than later. At the same time, Trump’s calls for making the United States a safer place may also be resonating with Chinese tourists, who are known for being security-conscious. A perceived lower risk of terror attacks and violent crime on U.S. soil should, therefore, make Chinese travelers more interested in visiting the United States.
In spite of Chinese tourists’ increased interest in visiting the United States, much is at stake for Chinese travelers and U.S. tourism stakeholders when Trump and Xi meet in Florida later this week. Under Barack Obama, the number of Chinese tourists visiting the United States each year grew from 493,000 in 2008 to 2.6 million in 2015, with spending growing five-fold in the same period, reaching US$30 billion in 2015 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. China currently ranks as the United States’ fifth most important tourism source market, and is projected to soon overtake Japan as the United States’ fourth largest tourism market. For Chinese tourists, agreements between China and the Obama administration made it easier than ever for Chinese tourists to visit the United States, for instance leading to the 10-year multiple entry visa for Chinese citizens, which has been lauded for encouraging repeat visits of high-spending Chinese tourists, as well as led to a rise in Chinese independent travelers visiting the United States.
However, Trump’s often anti-Chinese rhetoric and proposed travel bans against Muslim-majority countries have put the future of such initiatives into question. On the other hand, Trump’s heavy emphasis on creating jobs in America could make Chinese tourism an excellent bargaining chip for Xi Jinping in his meeting with Donald Trump later this week. When the United States agreed on introducing 10-year visas for Chinese travelers in 2014, a White House official told journalists that the policy could create up to 440,000 new U.S. jobs by 2021—a significant boost to the U.S. job market. In comparison, some 65,000 workers are currently employed in the coal industry.
It remains to be seen what the implications of the meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping will have on Chinese tourism, but until then, Chinese travelers are more excited than ever about paying the United States a visit.