2018 has been a tough year for the United States in terms of Chinese tourism, as tensions over escalating tariffs between Beijing and Washington have put a dent in arrivals from China. An initial estimate from ForwardKeys put the potential cost for the drop in Chinese tourism to the United States at $500 million. However, this view is not unanimous.

The National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO), an office within the U.S. Department of Commerce, is now predicting that Chinese tourist arrivals this year will see a minor increase of 2 percent from 2017. This comes after saying the office was “temporarily suspending” the release of such data in August due to “technical issues.”

In contrast to other forecasts, the U.S. National Travel & Tourism Office is predicting that total Chinese tourist arrivals to the United States will grow by 2 percent in 2018

Growth of 2 percent year-on-year would put estimated Chinese tourism arrivals for 2018 at 3.237 million. Total international tourist arrivals to the U.S. will likely grow by 5.7 percent year-on-year in 2018, as opposed to only 0.7 percent growth in 2017.

In fact, if the United States does experience Chinese tourist growth, it would be surprising. Politics and nationalism can have a big impact on where Chinese tourists go, as many Chinese tourists are unwilling to visit countries that are anti-Chinese. Moreover, the yuan has fallen significantly versus the dollar, making travel to the United States a much more expensive. The yuan-to-dollar exchange rate rose from 6.3 in April to its current rate of 6.95.

The increase, if it comes, would be despite trade tensions and a weaker yuan

Another factor to consider is the very real technical issues that the NTTO have been dealing with in the kiosks used at immigration in airports. The kiosks are one of the biggest providers of international arrival data for the office, and the NTTO had to retract and then revise its initial 2017 tourism numbers, which were released in September. There is no sign that there will be a similar hiccup this year.

The Chinese government has made no effort to directly limit the number of Chinese arrivals to the United States

Exactly what factors helped to buoy the NTTO’s Chinese tourism arrivals forecast for this year is unclear, and the office notes that “Because of the multi-factor, multi-staff consensus approach, it is not possible to isolate the impact of any one factor on a country’s traveler volume forecast.”

But it is possible that tensions between the U.S. and China aren’t solely driving that many Chinese tourists away. Though Chinese state media consistently transmits harsh and often pugnacious anti-American rhetoric, the Chinese government has made no effort to directly limit the number of Chinese arrivals to the U.S. like it has for anti-Chinese countries like Palau or South Korea. That being said, there has been substantial speculation that China is running out of U.S. imports on which to place tariffs in retaliation to the President Trump’s extensive tariffs on Chinese imports, and that the country could turn to other avenues to hurt U.S. economic interests, including tourism.

While the NTTO tourism figures are all speculation at this point, the travel industry won’t know the truth of the matter until the end of the year when there’s a clearer picture of the state of Chinese tourism to the United States.


Travel Trends