China - Country Commercial Guide
Travel and Tourism
Last published date:

China was the fifth-largest source of international travelers to the United States in 2019. In a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), data showed the number of travelers from China fell about 6% in 2018 to 2.99 million and fell another 5% in 2019 to 2.83 million. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of many air routes will continue to create uncertainty about short-term demand. 

  Travelers from China to the U.S.; 2015-2019
Travelers from China to the U.S.; 2015-2019

Source: NTTO

Travel to the United States by Chinese travelers contributed $33.5 billion to the U.S economy in 2019, down 3% from 2018. Even so, NTTO statistics show that Chinese travelers still represent the highest average spend per visitor, with each Chinese visitor spending an average of $11,849.

China Foreign Visitors Spending in the U.S. in 2019
China Foreign Visitors Spending in the U.S. in 2019

Source: NTTO

Marketing Destinations & Marketing Experiences

Historically, Chinese travelers have shown a preference for group and packaged tours. The trend is declining, however, as NTTO has reported that pre-paid package tours now only account for 16.6% of Chinese tourists to the United States, due to growing demand from “Frequent, Individual Travelers” (FIT) who organize their visits and travel independently.

The rise of the FIT traveler is accompanied by changes in consumer tastes and a decrease in the average age of the Chinese traveler. Increased availability of online travel blogs, booking sites, and other resources has enabled FIT travelers to more easily book unique travel experiences directly.

With sustained income growth, Chinese travelers are increasingly taking multiple trips abroad per year.  Increasing numbers of FIT travelers with rising disposable income are driving demand for travel to U.S. destinations outside the most popular gateway or first-trip cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. 

This trend for increase travel translates to potentially more opportunity for U.S. destinations historically less frequented by Chinese visitors. To capture this demand, destination marketing organizations and travel trade vendors must understand Chinese travelers’ preferences and promote unique experiences, including natural parks and resources, restaurants and local food scenes, musical and theater communities, and historical sights. 

Travel Marketing via Social Media

Social media and mobile internet are critically important to effectively marketing U.S. travel and tourism in China. China has more than 1.1 billion mobile phone users, and, as noted in a South China Morning Post article, Chinese consumers spend an average of 43.4 hours per person per week using mobile internet. Notably, social media via mobile platforms represents an important source of news and information for Chinese consumers.

Popular social media outlets include Little Red Book, Mafengwo, Meituan, Tiktok, Weibo, and WeChat. U.S. travel providers are increasing efforts to engage and partner with Chinese social media influencers to highlight their offerings. 

Mobile Payments and Transactions

Social media and mobile phones are not only critical marketing channels for U.S. travel and tourism in China, they are also increasingly popular financial transaction methods for Chinese consumers. Alipay and WeChat Pay are the two largest online payment providers in China.

An Arizona Office of Tourism presentation noted that 72% of online bookings on the top 5 online travel agencies (OTA) (C-Trip, Fliggy, Mafengwo, Qunar, and Tuniu) and 81% of online hotel bookings are made on mobile phones.

Growth in Chinese use of mobile payments has increasingly spurred merchants globally to accept such payments. According a report by Nielsen, a survey of Chinese tourists in 2018 found that 32% of their overseas travel spending was conducted through mobile payments.

Trade Events

GoWest 2021
March 1-5, 2021, Virtual

IPW 2021
September 18-22, 2021, Las Vegas

China International Travel Mart (CITM)
November (TBC), 2021, Shanghai

Web Resources

•    Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China
•    Brand USA
•    U.S. Travel Association