SHANGHAI (eTN) – After years of negotiations, China has agreed to allow tourists to visit the United States, leaving Canada as the last major country closed to Chinese tour groups.
The deal potentially means millions of tourist dollars will be flowing into U.S. coffers starting this spring.
China’s quickly growing middle class is Asia’s largest out-bound tourist market and likely the largest untapped tourist trove for both the United States and Canada.
The U.S. will now be able to advertise its tourist hot spots in China and actively court Chinese tourist dollars.
China now has 134 countries on it “Approved Destination List,” according to the official China Daily, but Canada is not one of them.
Former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal government reached an agreement in principle with China in 2005 to open the way to Chinese tourism, but final approval was never granted in Beijing.
It means advertising skiing in Banff or sightseeing in Vancouver is not allowed in China.
No reason has ever been given for the Chinese hesitancy to proceed with the Canadian agreement, but relations between the Harper government and China got off to a rocky start and have not improved recently, so it is unlikely a breakthrough is close.
The problems started with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s sharp public criticism of China’s human rights record and have been exacerbated lately by his decision to “officially” meet with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan holy man the Chinese describe as a separatist.
Until now, China has only allowed its citizens to travel to the U.S. on business visas or to visit specific family and friends, but not to simply visit Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon. Those kind of restrictions remain in place for Chinese visiting Canada.