Studies show that the growing number of Chinese outbound tourists headed to destinations outside of Asia highly favor travel to the United States—it’s among Chinese travelers’ top “dream destinations,” and also comes out in front when jetsetters are prioritizing cultural experiences. But when it comes to just how many people will make it over there in the coming years, a new report from strategic aviation solutions and planning company Boyd Group International says inner airports in the United States need to be prepared for a surge.
The group released its first Airports:China™ Traffic Forecast, in which it has predicted that the number of annual Chinese tourists to the United States will swell to more than 6.5 million by 2020, just under three times the 2.4 million tourists the United States saw in 2015. That means in five years, more than 23 million tourists will have visited the United States, and travel companies need to get ready to cater to them.
The forecast, which will be presented in full at the 21st Annual Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in September, suggests the increase in tourists is expected to directly impact inner airports in the United States as many of the leisure travel routes will be likely completed via connecting flights through cities like New Orleans, Reno, Spokane, Colorado Springs, and Memphis. The prediction is based on the idea that more non-stop flights are being added to Chinese cities outside of Beijing and Shanghai, meaning that it will be more efficient for those living outside of first-tier cities to travel to the United States. United Airlines’ aggressive expansion and partnership with Air China is just one example of this—the airline has been adding new direct flights to Chinese second-tier cities regularly, including most recently, Xi’an and Hangzhou.
In fact, Boyd Group International expects that the current amount of air travel from China’s top 15 cities to the United States is “less than 15 percent of the potential demand.” Overall, annual outbound trips from China are expected to reach 200 million by 2020, according to research from brokerage and investment group CLSA.
“With nonstop flights to U.S. gateways from more Chinese cities, an increasing share of visitors will start their U.S. visit itinerary by connecting on to an interior airport,” said president of the firm Michael Boyd in a statement. “This segment has already discovered places like the Thousand Islands, Moab, The French Quarter, and Yosemite, and this can be a traffic boon for more mid-size airports across the USA that develop aggressive China-outreach strategies.”
Boyd said that in order to make a Chinese traveler’s journey as efficient as possible as well as best familiarize them with the place they’re going to, it’s critical for airports to have a digital presence as more Chinese travelers rely on smartphones for trip planning—especially the millennial sector, which makes more mobile travel bookings than their global counterparts, according to The World Youth Student and Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation’s Chinese Millennial Traveler report. These suggested efforts are in addition to making “digital assistance programs” and signage available in Mandarin.
“The determinant in where this traffic will visit depends on how U.S. communities and airports prepare for the unique characteristics of the Chinese traveler, and how well they aggressively engage in projecting their ‘brand’ within China,” Boyd said.