United States gears up for more Chinese group visitors

The United States is gearing up to receive more Chinese visitors after the two governments signed an agreement to facilitate group leisure travel from China to the United States, said attendees of a U.S. tourism marketing exhibition that ended on Wednesday.

About 5,300 people from over 70 countries convened in Las Vegas, Nevada, for an annual U.S. international tourism marketing exhibition, or Pow Wow, where China became one of its key words. The exhibition started on May 31.

After years of negotiation, U.S. Department of Commerce signed an agreement with Chinese officials to facilitate more group visitors traveling from China to the United States and that will begin later this year, said Roger Dow, president of the Washington-based Travel Industry Association (TIA), the organizer of the Pow Wow.

He said that he believed the agreement would drive the number of Chinese traveling to the United States to a million in the coming years.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gutierrez and China National Tourism Administration Director Shao Qiwei signed on Dec. 11, 2007, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the United States of America to Facilitate Outbound Tourist Group Travel from China to the United States.

The first Chinese tour group as the result of the agreement is set to arrive in the United States on June 17, according to the announcement by the two governments.

“Visitation from Chinese market is increasing and we can expect to see the increase of the number of Chinese coming on group visit to New York City after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed late last year, so we are preparing for that,” Chris Heywood, NYC Company Vice President of Travel and Tourism Public Relations, told Xinhua.

According to the NYC Company’s statistics, New York City saw an increase of 5.5 percent in Chinese visitation last year and the number will dramatically increase starting this year, he said.

The company has established an office last June in Shanghai, China, to tap the big potential market, he added.

“Considering most Chinese might come to New York City, one of the top destinations in the country, a lot of our tour attractions across the city are preparing for the increase of Chinese visitors,” said Heywood, adding that museums begin to provide special Chinese audio tour and hotels to serve Chinese-style breakfast.

“So we believe Chinese will feel very comfortable in NYC as we always say we are the world’s second home,” he said. “No matter where you are from, the city will be always welcoming and we don’t believe that there will be any difference with Chinese visitors.”

“The message we want to communicate with Chinese is New York City will welcome them with open arms to discover the beauty and magic here.”

For its part, the Homeland Security Department, which handles the visa issue related to international tourists, is working closely with the U.S. embassy in China to make sure the Chinese have information in their own language on what they need to know about coming to the United States, said the department’s public affairs officer Kimberly Weissman in an interview with Xinhua.

She noted that they provide information about the U.S. 10-fingerprint process, meaning Chinese travelers have to leave their ten fingerprints and a photograph at the U.S. embassy, and have their fingerprints and photograph verified by immigration when they come to the United States.

“We want Chinese travelers to know that the reason we are taking fingerprints is actually to secure their travel documents and to protect their identities,” she said. “We don’t want people to concern that this has something to do with making them feel not welcomed.”

She also said that the department has deployed more Chinese interpreters at the U.S. airports to make sure those who can not speak English very well can be communicated in their own language.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Chinese visitation is forecast to reach 579,000 arrivals by 2011.

To take advantage of the growing market in China, the TIA began to mobilize attendees to the Pow Wow to take part in the Discovery American Pavilion at the China International Travel Mart 2008 that is set on Nov. 20 to 23 in Shanghai, China.

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