China is expected to be among the 10 biggest tourist exporters to the US next year, said a US tourism official.
Mark Turner, with the US Embassy to China, made the prediction while attending the 2006 China International Travel Mart (CITM) held in Shanghai.
Although European countries and Japan are still the major tourism sources to the US at present, the number of Chinese visitors has seen rapid growth, said Turner. Responding to the large potential of the Chinese market, the US sent its largest ever delegation to the tourism fair, including representatives from 50 American tourism companies and agencies.
China is currently the 12th largest tourist source for the US. The number of Chinese visitors to the country surged 24 percent last year.
Turner said that the US Embassy had started a pilot program, offers visa application interview appointments through seven qualified travel agencies in Beijing, to speed up the process.
The program may be extended to consulates in Shanghai, Chengdu, Shenyang and Guangzhou if the Beijing trials go well, Turner said.
China and the US have made progress in negotiations on making the US a destination for Chinese tourists, said officials. Market rumors said the two countries would reach an agreement that might offer the US a status that is close to accredited destination status (ADS) that a host of other countries enjoy.
However, according to US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who visited the American booths of the tourism fair on Thursday, bilateral negotiations on the ADS issue may continue for another three to five years.
Meanwhile, Canada has also pinned high hopes on the Chinese tourism market.
Leading a delegation of 90 members to CITM 2006, Michele Mckenzie, the Canada Tourism Bureau CEO, said the country would make vigorous efforts this year to expand China-oriented travel services, in the wake of a new website for Chinese tourists being established.
Last year, Canada received 120,000 visitors from China, an increase of 15.2 percent on 2004. In the first 10 months of this year, such growth reached 25 percent, Mckenzie said.
Canada is expected to obtain authorization of ADS from the Chinese Government next year, a move expected to trigger a slew of Chinese visitors to the country, according to a senior Canadian Government official.
The Canadian tourism industry has been waiting for ADS from China since the beginning of this year. The process has been delayed while some bilateral disagreements are ironed out, said officials.
"I am fully confident that ADS will be granted in a couple of months," said Premier Gordon Campbell from the British Columbia province, who was in Shanghai to promote tourism for the province.
British Columbia hosted nearly 61,000 Chinese visitors as of August this year, a 9 percent increase over 2005 and closing in on the full year total of 83,000.
"This level of growth is encouraging, and sets the stage for even more dramatic increases in the future, as marketing programs show results, and travel policies make access easier," Campbell said.
Labeled as Asia's largest tourism fair, CITM 2006 closed on Sunday and featured about 4,100 exhibitors from 91 countries and regions and attracted 75,000 visitors.
(China Daily November 23, 2006)