As the inaugural group of Chinese travelers arrived in the United States, both U.S. and Chinese tourism officials are pondering how to establish more mature, persistent and broad cooperation for mutual benefit.
About 250 Chinese travelers from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou ended their four-day tour in Washington D.C. on Friday, saying that they have received unprecedented high-level welcome.
Their arrivals at the International airport were awaited by a U.S. jazz band and senior officials of U.S. Commerce Department including assistant Secretary William Sutton with greeting banners.
They were offered special and exclusive tours to the U.S. Congress and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and a welcome ceremony at a Senate building by Senator from Hawaii Daniel Kahikina Akaka, who congratulated the Chinese guests for witnessing the milestone in the tourism cooperation between the two countries.
At a reception on the Odyssey Cruise Thursday night, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez wished them "good cultural experience, happy memories, great photographs and new friends" in the United States.
He also praised China's good handling of the earthquake and its victims and congratulated China on its successful preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"I feel warmly welcomed here," said a visitor, Ms. Peng. "I would bring back these good memories and advise my friends to visit America."
Peng said the hotel she stayed in added Chinese food to its breakfast buffet, which made her really feel at home.
It took years of negotiations for the U.S. and Chinese governments to strike the memorandum of understanding to facilitate outbound tourist group travel from China to the United States on Dec. 11, 2007 in Beijing, which signified that China further opened its market to the U.S. tourism industry.
"We hope the first groups of Chinese tourists can take back their experience here to China, so we can have more tourists coming from China," Gutierrez told Xinhua Thursday.
Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Industry Association (TIA), said the organization will continue to focus on China "since it is a high growing market" with about 6 percent of total population traveling abroad every year.
Under the Memorandum, the American Tours International (ATI), a company that represents U.S. states tourism industries abroad, is to open its office in China on Aug. 1.
Noel Irwin Hentschel, the ATI CEO, said her Beijing office would provide training program and product design assistance to Chinese tourism operators.
For the Chinese part, Shao Qiwei, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration who led the inaugural groups of Chinese travelers, said the program of Chinese leisure groups to the U.S. is being carried out in a orderly and gradual manner.
He said the program would be expanded to all over China after the pilot project in nine provinces and three municipalities yielded positive results.
Xu Deming, president of Guangdong China Travel Service Co., said he hoped that the speedy and convenient visa application and approval procedure the inaugural groups enjoyed will remain.
Besides more Chinese tourists coming to America, the two-way cooperation is also expected to bring more Americans to China.
Dow said the TIA is planning to take 50 state tourism officials to Shanghai in November, where they can have access to their Chinese counterparts and tourism products.
Hentschel from the ATI is also sketching marketing strategies for Chinese provincial and local tourism, starting from Sichuan where the tourism industry was badly hit by the May earthquake.
"China is a big country of tourism with rich resources but not a power in tourism since it has to do more to promote itself in the international market," said Xu Deming.
His remarks echoed Shao Qiwei's appeal for the U.S. tourism industry to establish direct relations with Chinese provincial tourism offices to channel more Americans towards China.
(Xinhua News Agency June 21, 2008)