No Golden Week lustre for US as China tourist arrivals slump

China was the largest source of tourists for Singapore last year, with 3.2 million visitors. There is potential for the number to grow, says Ctrip.
Chinese tourists posing for photographs with the iconic bull statue in New York City. Fewer Chinese tourists visited the US during the National Day holidays from Oct 1 to 7 this year. In Ctrip’s ranking of the most popular overseas destinations for Chinese tourists during the Golden Week period, the US fell five spots from last year to number 10 this year.PHOTO: REUTERS
Chinese tourists posing for photographs with the iconic bull statue in New York City. Fewer Chinese tourists visited the US during the National Day holidays from Oct 1 to 7 this year. In Ctrip's ranking of the most popular overseas destinations for C
China was the largest source of tourists for Singapore last year, with 3.2 million visitors. There is potential for the number to grow, says Ctrip. ST FILE PHOTO

China's largest online travel agency Ctrip says impact of Sino-US trade war 'too early to tell'

The number of Chinese tourists to the United States dropped during the week-long National Day holidays amid a trade war between the two countries.

Ms Jane Sun, chief executive of Ctrip, China's largest online travel service provider, said tour operators in the US expected huge numbers of Chinese tourists from Oct 1 to 7, or Golden Week, but the visitors were "not as many as before".

According to travel fare search engine Skyscanner, flight ticket sales from China to the US plunged 42 per cent compared with the same period last year.

In Ctrip's ranking of the most popular overseas destinations for Chinese tourists during the National Day holidays, the US fell five spots from last year to number 10 this year.

But when asked if the ongoing Sino-US trade war had affected travel sentiments to the US, Ms Sun insisted that "it's too early to tell".

She was in New York during the holidays and noticed that the volume of Chinese tourists travelling to the city was "not growing very well".

"The US in the past has always been very favoured by families when they send their children for summer camps," she told The Straits Times in an interview.

She noted that safety, the availability of direct flights as well as the hospitality of the people in the host country are key factors that Chinese tourists consider when they travel abroad. "People want to go to a place where they feel safe and welcome. Many countries have China-friendly programmes. Singapore is an example. The road signs are in Chinese and English, so it's easy for people to move around."

However, Ms Sun pointed out that the National Day holidays last year coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival, which gave people eight days of public holidays, one more day than this year. "So it's very hard to pinpoint yet… the US is far away, so adding one or two days… is very important. So we'll have to see."

Ms Sun singled out Japan as the most popular travel destination for Chinese tourists this year, while South-east Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia continued to "do very well".

As more Chinese tourists are veering away from group tours and opting for customised tours that offer diversity, Ms Sun said Singapore is well-placed to take advantage of the trend to grow its travel industry.

Since Ctrip launched its customised tour service about three years ago, catering to small groups of between two and six people each, it has seen more than 100 per cent growth each year, Ms Sun said. "This tells you that the travel spending is scaling up, compared with a group of 40 people where they try to cut down on costs. (The young travellers now) like to enjoy the experience."

Last year, China was the largest source of tourists for Singapore, with 3.2 million visitors. Ms Sun noted that this number has room to grow tremendously if Singapore and China cooperate well.

"It is safe and people are bilingual, bicultural. You speak English or Mandarin," she said of Singapore, adding that Singaporeans are friendly and there is diversity in food and entertainment.

"(Singapore) is geared towards travellers who are striving for quality rather than quantity," she said. But given Singapore's small size, Ms Sun said packages that cover other countries in the region will make it even more attractive to tourists.

"I took my family to take the (Eastern and) Oriental Express and it was a lot of fun," said Ms Sun, referring to the luxury train ride between Thailand and Singapore.

She suggested that governments work together to develop the sightseeing spots at the various stop points.

"The service on the train is wonderful. It's just that when you stop at certain ports, you need to make the excursions very appealing, then we can send more people through that route… All these represent tremendous opportunities," she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2018, with the headline 'No Golden Week lustre for US as China tourist arrivals slump'. Print Edition | Subscribe