The number of arrivals from China to the US fell last year for the first time in 15 years. The Chinese are the world’s highest-spending foreign visitors and their tourism dollar is sorely missed.

The United States has fast grown addicted to the $36.2 billion (€32 billion) in annual tourism receipts from Chinese visitors, a figure that has grown more than 15-fold since the turn of the century.

Last year, however, the number of Chinese tourists to the US fell sharply for the first time since 2003, in part due to a slowdown of the world’s second largest economy, but more-so, because of the worsening trade spat between Beijing and Washington.

Figures from the US National Travel and Tourism Office showed a 5.5% drop in arrivals from China in 2018, and industry analysts say the decline appears to be deepening this year.

US tourism chiefs had predicted that growth in tourism from China would continue past 2022, but the threat of tit-for-tat tariffs on imports, along with the US embargo on the tech giant Huawei, appears to have put paid to that. 

Chinese still traveling  

By contrast, more than 100 million mainland Chinese travelled abroad last year — a record number, according to the China National Tourism Administration. But the majority of them picked other Asian destinations, while those who did venture further abroad, chose Europe.

The impact of the drop in arrivals is likely to be felt throughout the US economy. American companies have put considerable resources into becoming China-friendly, especially as Chinese tourists spend an average of $5,900 per trip — about half more than visitors from other countries. Although the Chinese have gained a reputation for boorish behavior on foreign trips while being transported to the usual tourist traps in large tour groups, the stereotype is increasingly inaccurate.

China is now one of the world’s wealthiest countries, and many of its citizens have substantial travel budgets to splash on luxury transportation, accommodation, and fine dining.

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