Tourism between the United States and China will take center stage in 2016. Image: Embassy of the United States in China.

Push to Increase Tourism between US and China Takes Off


Many Americans are already familiar with the fact that 2016 is the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese zodiac. In terms of US-China relations, it is perhaps more significant that 2016 is also "US - China Tourism Year,” an initiative that grew out of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2015 visit to the United States. Upon the conclusion of that visit, President Xi and President Obama announced a collaboration between the US Department of Commerce and China National Tourism Administration to aid in the increase of visitors between their two countries.

Tourism is the United States’ largest services export, accounting for $220.8 billion in revenue and supporting 1.1 million jobs. It also accounts for 57% of all service exports to China and in 2014 Chinese visitors spent a record $24 billion while traveling in the United States. Coupled with the recent extended visa agreement between China and the United States, it is predicted that by 2021 over 7 million Chinese tourists will visit the United States annually, leading to the creation of 440,000 jobs.

Spearheading the “US – China Tourism Year” is Brand USA, “the nation’s first global marketing effort to promote the United States as a premier travel destination” born from the 2010 Travel Promotion Act. A central goal of the “Tourism Year” is to see bilateral visits between the China and the United States reach 5 million, a laudable goal as currently 2 million Americans visit China annually and in 2015 2.5 million Chinese visited the United States.

To achieve this increase, Brand USA has been partnering with various US states and organizations to promote travel destinations that may be of interest to Chinese tourists. Chief among these is the National Park Service, which is celebrating its centennial in 2016. Brand USA has produced a documentary entitled “National Parks Adventure” which will cover 30 national parks, eight of which have sister park relationships with China. The film will be released in China in the spring of 2016 and will remain in theaters for up to a year.

At the state level, both Florida and Nevada have recently joined with Brand USA to promote their own unique destinations. Florida’s Pinellas County, in collaboration with Brand USA, will launch its first ever marketing campaign in China in the hopes of attracting Chinese tourists to beaches in St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Nevada joined Brand USA at the launch of the “US – China Tourism Year” in the hopes of increasing its number of Chinese visitors. Nevada has plenty of history to build this relationship on as it was the first state to be licensed by the Chinese government to advertise tourism in China. Tourism is the largest industry in Nevada, providing 474,000 jobs, and on an annual basis 15% of Chinese tourists that come to the United States already visit Nevada.

Sarah Wang is the Event Coordinator and a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.