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North America has long been a popular long-haul destination for Chinese outbound travelers, attracted by the continent’s nature, suitability for self-driving, educational opportunities and more. Learn about Chinese tourism to the US and Canada, and the factors that may affect future growth.
North America has long been a popular long-haul destination for Chinese outbound travelers, and both the U.S. and Canada witnessed an annual growth of over 20% in arrivals from mainland China almost every year from 2013 to 2016.
Interviews with Chinese Travelers:
Have you ever been to North America?
I spent almost 6 months there, in the United States. Oh yeah, I have been to Canada as well, I have friends there. I visited there for more than a month.
To Las Vegas and San Francisco.
To the US and Canada. I lived in Canada for 6 years.
I have been to the US. The East Coast, West Coast, the Midwest, I often visit. Last year we went to Seattle. This year I am debating whether to go to California. My kid is going to summer camp there.
I have been to many cities: New York, New Mexico, Los Angeles, Las Vegas… Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.
What were your impressions of North America?
The US has given me the general impression that you do not need to think or plan too much. You feel comfortable anywhere!
Canada is very good… but I have only been to Vancouver and Toronto, modern cities. Very, very, very, very, very nice country!
The landscape [in the US] is great, people are generally very warm-hearted. And quite nice, polite, and very liberal minded. This summer I am actually planning to visit Texas. I’ve got lots of American friends. They told me that people from the West Coast, the East Coast and from the Midwest and the South are quite different people, and if you want to get a full understanding of the States you’d better see all sides. Just meet the people, is really what I like, when I travel around.
Canada is a very nice country. In all sorts of aspects. It is an inclusive and multicultural [society]. And in comparison [to the US], it is more equal and safer.
I like self-driving. In Europe it is not as convenient, but the US has a “car culture’, so driving there is more convenient.
Geographically, the US is very big, so there are all kinds of sceneries, but in general, the natural landscape is very beautiful and the people have different cultural backgrounds, and you can experience different countries’ cultures at once.
Why North America?
In 2015, Canada followed the U.S. in launching 10-year multiple entry visas for Chinese passport holders, which helped boost interest from FITs and repeat visitors.
Natural landscapes are one of the main reasons that Chinese travelers visit North America. The fact that both Canada and the U.S. are English-speaking countries makes them attractive for both leisure visitors and those looking for overseas educational opportunities for their children.
How do they travel?
COTRI Analytics show that first-tier cities are still the major departure source market for North America. 55% of Chinese travelers to North America stayed five to seven days, while 21% stayed over 13 days. The long length of these visits has strong benefits for local hotels.
Chinese New Year is the peak season for Chinese travel to North America. Both the U.S. and Canada have large Chinese immigrant populations, and COTRI Analytics show that about 20% of Chinese travelers to U.S. and Canada are visiting friends and relatives.
Summer is another peak season, when Chinese parents take their children to join study tours with various themes, such as visiting prestigious universities.
OTA Tuniu’s data shows that the U.S. and Canada rank as the first and fourth most popular overseas destinations for self-driving, respectively. Both countries have a vast territory, with major attractions located far apart from each other, which makes self-driving an ideal option to enjoy the continent’s nature and the road trip experience.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics has increased Chinese interest in activities such as skiing or simply touching snow, and North America – especially Canada’s British Columbia – is one of the most popular overseas destinations for winter tourism.
Although the U.S. received over 3.3 million Chinese travelers in 2017, this was an increase of only 3.9%. The US-China trade war and rumors of a tighter visa policy resulted in a 13.8% drop in Chinese travelers to the US in the first nine months of 2018 compared to the year before, and Chinese flight bookings to the U.S. for the 2018 National Day holiday were down 42%. The average price of package tours to North America also declined 25.5% in October 2018 compared to 2017.
Over 694,000 Chinese travelers visited Canada in 2017, while year-on-year growth declined by half from 2016. Although Canada prepared well for the 2018 China-Canada Tourism Year, including a visit to China by Canada’s prime minister and the opening of more visa application centers, growth was only 5.6% for the first nine months of 2018
Despite a brief period of optimism after China and the U.S. decided to suspend the trade war in December 2018, the arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada is now raising further concerns about travel to North America.
Despite slowing growth and political tensions, North America still has appeal for Chinese travelers as a destination with different activities for all seasons, as well as established overseas Chinese communities.