Tourists from the Chinese mainland like destinations that are convenient, secure, and friendly.
The United States used to satisfy all three. But not so much lately.
Counting in visits for sightseeing, family reunions, education, business and medical purposes, travel from the Chinese mainland to the United States dropped 5.7 percent in 2018, according to the US National Travel and Tourism Office.
That slide rings alarm bells because it follows 14 consecutive years of growth.
According to the Big-Data Report on Outbound Chinese Tourists in 2018 released by the China National Tourism Administration, none of the top 10 foreign cities favored by Chinese tourists was in the US.
As many have observed, the latest spat between the two governments, which started in March 2018 when Washington announced it would impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports and which seems to be spreading increasingly beyond trade, is no doubt a factor to blame.
But along with escalating tit-for-tat trade blows, the overall atmosphere for bilateral communication has been deteriorating, and this has inevitably affected people-to-people exchanges.
Sporadic as they may be, reports about Chinese nationals having their US visas nullified at airports and/or being inappropriately treated by law enforcement personnel, Chinese-Americans losing their jobs for alleged connections with China’s government, the clamor to restrict Chinese students’ access to high-tech majors in US colleges, and the rising pitch of the China-bashing rhetoric have all contributed to dissuading many Chinese from visiting the US.
Compared with the 2017 Chinese National Day holiday, Chinese bookings of US-bound flights for the 2018 Golden Week fell 42 percent. Indeed, why should people receive a cold shoulder when there are plenty of more hospitable places to go?
With options for overseas travel continuing to broaden, and people’s tastes diversifying, more and more Chinese are being attracted to more affordable, accessible and amiable destinations.
Given there is no sign that a trade deal will be reached any time soon, a further drop in people-to-people visits between the two countries seems inevitable.
And as the hysteria to deny Chinese students access to US colleges persists, there may be a sizable fall in the number of Chinese students on US campuses.
Chinese students now account for one-third of all international students in the US. If the present fearmongering persists in the US, this may change quite soon, as more and more otherwise incoming Chinese students will have to avoid the US for overseas education.
For decades, people-to-people exchanges have helped break down barriers and promote mutual understanding between the US and China. But the actions of the current administration threaten to undo all that good work by building a wall of enmity between the two peoples.