Caribbean tourism to benefit from historic agreement between China and US


ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada (eTN) – The notion that regional tourism industry stands to benefit from a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed last week between the US and China is becoming generally accepted by Caribbean tourism industry stakeholders.

After years of anticipation, much of the US travel industry breathed a sigh a relief last week when the US and China signed an MoU to allow group leisure travel to the US and to permit US destinations to market themselves in China.

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Siddiqi Sylvester of Astral Travel and Tours said that the MoU is the closest the US has effectively come to granting approved-destination status to China which can also result in an influx of Chinese tourists to the Caribbean. “Travel packages can so be arrangement that the Chinese tourists can experience both a US destination vacation and a Caribbean adventure. We are very close to the US and some of the airlines which travel to China also travel to the Caribbean, so the possibility exist for direct flights to the Caribbean or connecting flights,” he said.

The US travel and tourism industry has long sought an agreement under which China would grant the US approved-destination status, which allows Chinese nationals to travel to an approved country as tourists. Until now, Chinese travelers have been restricted to visiting the US for business purposes.

The memorandum will ultimately do what approved destination status was intended to do. Groups of Chinese tourists will be allowed to visit the US within the US Department of State’s existing visa procedures. The one limitation is that the agreement could be terminated if significant numbers of group travelers overstay their visas, according to the US Department of Commerce.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez signed the memorandum at a meeting of the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade Travel and Tourism Working Group in Beijing last week. It is expected to be implemented in the spring of 2008.

“China is a very promising market for the US travel and tourism industry,” said Matthew Braud, communications director for the Commerce Department’s Office of Manufacturing and Services. He said China’s “growing middle class has spending power, our most recent calculations show that Chinese citizens on average spent US$6,000 per visitor, which ranked higher than any other nation.” The Commerce Department estimates that the number of annual Chinese visitors to the US will reach 579,000 by 2011, up from 320,000 visitors last year.

Siddiqi, whose company has an office in New York, said that people are realizing that the Chinese having a lot of spending power because of the industrial development taking place in the Asian country. “They have money to spend and we in the Caribbean have to tap into the market, so what is needed is for us in the Caribbean, especially those of us in the tourism industry, is to develop strong partnership with US travel agents and tour companies and maximize on the opportunities,” he said.