THE US and China last week reached a landmark agreement that grants travellers in both countries 10-year multiple-entry visas and boosts the trade’s efforts to lure more Chinese visitors to American shores.
Under the reciprocal agreement, travellers on short-term business and tourist visas will now be granted multiple-entry visas valid for 10 years and student visas for five, instead of the one-year validity previously.
Also breaking new ground is Brand USA, representing the country of honour at this year’s China International Travel Mart (CITM) with a 300-strong delegation and 73 booths at the show.
Jay Gray, vice president, global market development, Brand USA, told TTG Asia e-Daily: “This (visa announcement) is great timing, coming prior to CITM. We had over 1.8 million Chinese arrivals to the US in 2013.”
The NTO had already expected China to overtake the UK as the top overseas source market by 2018, Gray added.
This new visa development could have a multiplier effect on Brand USA’s existing plans to make the US a top-of-mind destination for the Chinese, including the fully localised version of an online training programme for travel consultants (to be launched in May 2015), mega fam trips and advertising.
Peter Phang, managing director Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority China, said: “In the immediate term there is now more incentive for Las Vegas to tap second- and third-tier cities in China because of the bigger pool of potential tourists. We’ll also entice more agencies to sell Las Vegas packages.
“Imagine a manufacturer in Guangzhou who comes to Las Vegas to participate in a tradeshow. With a 10-year visa, he can come back to exhibit every year.”
Karen Wang of wholesaler Beijing Global Tour International Travel Service added: “With this 10-year visa, travellers going to Mexico, the Caribbean or such destinations can have short trips in the US instead of merely transiting there.”
But she noted that the US is still an unfamiliar destination for the Chinese and more awareness should be drummed up locally.
Bob Wang, general manager of China Swan International Tours, which has seen a 20 per cent year-on-year hike in customers visiting the US, mostly for group tours, said: “It may not be great news for wholesale travel agencies, because even if a traveller goes on a group tour the first time, maybe the next time they will go as FITs (which is a loss for the agency).”