weather icon Clear

Fewer travelers visiting US from China

Updated May 28, 2019 - 2:19 pm

After more than a year of escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and China, some tourist destinations are feeling the consequences.

The National Travel and Tourism Office announced travel from China to the U.S. fell 5.7 percent last year to 2.9 million visitors, the first time these numbers have slipped since 2003.

“It’s a big deal,” said Gary Hufbauer, a nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “My guess is that further declines will be seen next year and beyond.”

Escalating tensions

The trade war kicked off in January of 2018, when the Trump administration imposed tariffs on Chinese solar panels and washing machines. Now, the U.S. has a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, and China has placed tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. imports.

China also placed a travel warning for the U.S. last summer; the country later retaliated with its own warning against Chinese travel.

“The trade and tech wars are creating a new image of China in the American mind: not just a competitor, but definitely an adversary, and probably an enemy,” Hufbauer said via email. “This discourages Chinese tourism – visitors fear hostile encounters, though so far the fear far exceeds the reality.”

But the reasoning behind the fall is more complex than just trade tensions, according to Stephen Miller, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV.

“The decline in tourism to the United States is partly because tourists from China are staying closer to home — Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau (Macao) — where tourism is up from China,” he said via email.

Visitation in Las Vegas

Tori Barnes, executive vice president for public affairs and policy for Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Travel Association, said the association is concerned that tensions with China might affect business and other travel to the U.S.

“While our commercial and security relationships with China are certainly complicated, it is an undeniable fact that Chinese travel to the U.S. has been a huge win for the U.S. economy and jobs, and there are warning signs that advantage is beginning to erode,” Barnes said in a statement.

According to the travel association, Chinese visitors are extremely valuable; they visit the U.S. in strong numbers and spend an average of $6,700 per trip, 50 percent more than the average international visitor.

However, Miller said Chinese visitors make up such a small percentage of Las Vegas’ overall foreign visitors — 4.5 percent in 2017 — that the decline might “not be a big deal.” China ranked fifth among foreign visitors in Las Vegas in 2017, behind Canada (26 percent), Mexico (20 percent), the United Kingdom (13 percent) and Australia (6 percent), according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The LVCVA hasn’t yet posted updated visitation statistics for 2018, according to spokeswoman Heidi Hayes, so she declined to comment on how national visitation numbers could affect Las Vegas. The LVCVA does have data that shows overall foreign visitation went up from 16 percent to 20 percent last year.

The industry as a whole plays a major role in the city’s economy. Visitors spent nearly $36 billion while in Las Vegas in 2018, and the tourism industry accounted for 39 percent of Southern Nevada’s total workforce last year, according to the LVCVA.

What’s next

Miller is optimistic about Chinese tourism to Las Vegas and believes the visitation growth will renew after the trade skirmish ends.

“Chinese tourism will continue to expand as their incomes rise,” he said.

Hufbauer doesn’t expect to see political rhetoric between the countries subside until at least 2021, with a slight chance of an early resolution in the mid-2020s if a new president is elected. Until then, he said travel rates from China to the U.S. won’t improve.

“I’m skeptical that Las Vegas can surmount these geopolitical forces,” he said. “Trade tensions have escalated a lot this year. Rhetoric from both (President Donald) Trump and Xi (Jinping, president of China) is sharp.”

In the meantime, Hufbauer said casino operators can take action to incentivise Chinese visitation.

“If the city and the casinos make a big effort to welcome any and all Chinese tourists, special greetings to individual visitors plus celebrations of Chinese holidays and the like, perhaps word will filter back to China,” he said.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Business Videos
Amazon blocks sale of N95 masks to public - VIDEO
Amazon established a new section of its website where U.S.-accredited hospitals or state or federal agencies can apply for supplies. N95 masks, surgical masks, facial shields, surgical gowns, surgical gloves and large-volume sanitizers are among the restricted items. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cars line up for over 4 miles for food
Cars were lined up along Sahara Avenue from Palace Station to South Rainbow Boulevard for food distribution sponsored by Three Square and Central Church in Henderson.
US weekly jobless claims jump to 6.6 million - VIDEO
The U.S. Labor Department reported 6.6 million people filed for unemployment insurance in the past week. A reported 10 million people have filed over the past two weeks. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
When will self-employed get unemployment money in Nevada? - VIDEO
President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act into law March 27. It allows states to expand unemployment insurance benefits, including to independent contractors, self-employed and gig workers. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Free Business Updates
For more information head to: https://www.reviewjournal.com/vegas-business-updates/
Walmart’s new safety measures at stores: Checking temperatures - VIDEO
In an effort to intensify safety measures in their stores, Walmart and Sam’s Club will check the temperatures of all employees as they arrive for work. (Kevin Cannon / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Macy’s to furlough majority of 130,000 employees amid coronavirus closures - VIDEO
On March 30, Macy’s Inc. announced their decision to furlough a majority of their employees and instead move to the “absolute minimum workforce needed.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal
An empty Las Vegas Strip from the air - Drone Video
For the first time in forever, the famed Las Vegas Strip is closed for business amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada construction continues as coronavirus spreads
When Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered Nevada businesses closed, he let construction workers stay on the job, deeming homebuilding and other construction “essential” lines of work.
US weekly jobless claims soar to record-breaking 3.28M - VIDEO
The U.S. Department of Labor released the shattering numbers on Thursday. Jobless claims had been as low as 282,000 the previous week. The 3.28 million jobless claims for last week is more than double the 1.5 million new claims that analysts were expecting. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Worker at Allegiant Stadium tests positive for COVID-19
Construction of Allegiant Stadium is unlikely to affected by the coronavirus outbreak that is having an impact on just about every industry across the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Casino companies burning through millions daily
RJ reporter Bailey Schulz talks about how much Las Vegas Casino companies are losing and how the Emergency bill could help if they run out of money or need help recouping what was lost.
Albertsons, Walmart, Amazon increase pay amid coronavirus impact - VIDEO
Grocery stores and other retailers have raised employee pay as they work to meet customer demand during the coronavirus pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police tells nonessential businesses to respect the shutdown - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reminds businesses in Clark County that all nonessential businesses are to be shut down as mandated by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, due to the coronavirus crises. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Amazon Prime delays are now as long as a month - VIDEO
As of Sunday, many nonessential items ordered with Prime delivery are showing an April 21 delivery date. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fed announces unprecedented actions to stabilize markets - VIDEO
The Federal Reserve announced several new measures on Monday. Among the announced programs is a further commitment of $300 billion "supporting the flow of credit" for Main Street businesses. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lee’s Discount Liquor stores close on Sunday - VIDEO
Lee’s Discount Liquor stores across the Las Vegas Valley closed at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 22, the company announced on Twitter. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local Businesses Message To Customers After Closing - Video
Local movie theaters and stores leave signs on their doors for customers as businesses close after being ordered to shut down.
Valley businesses react to mandatory order to shut down - VIDEO
All non-essential businesses in the Las Vegas Valley have to shut down. We spoke with store owners who would remain open for the benefit of the community and others who were still confused as to why they had to close. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada casino closures impact 206K workers, AGA finds - VIDEO
About 206,000 direct casino employees in Nevada are without work after Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Tuesday mandate, according to the American Gaming Association. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
More Las Vegas Valley grocery stores offer early hours for seniors - VIDEO
A growing list of Las Vegas Valley retailers are offering special shopping hours for seniors in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada casinos closing for 30 days following state order - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak’s unprecedented order on nonessential Nevada businesses will shut down 440 licensed casinos. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wynn CEO and Dr. Rebecca Katz go over coronavirus - Video
The Wynn CEO Matt Maddox and Dr. Rebecca Katz give a warning about the coronavirus in Las Vegas and around the world.
The Bellagio casino floor cleared as guests get ready to leave hotel - VIDEO
The Bellagio casino floor cleared as guests get ready to leave hotel (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tourists upset with MGM Resorts' lack of closure notice - VIDEO
Tourists like David and Emma Walker, who are visiting from Scotland, found out about MGM Resorts' property closures through Google, instead of the Luxor where they are currently staying. The Walkers are upset with how MGM has handled the situation by not making their customers aware of the closures first. (Cassie Soto/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
All Las Vegas MGM casinos, hotels to temporarily close - VIDEO
MGM Resorts International announced Sunday it is temporarily suspending operations at all Las Vegas properties “until further notice” effective Tuesday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caesars begins layoffs during coronavirus crisis - VIDEO
Documentation obtained by the Review-Journal shows Caesars Entertainment Corp. has begun laying off employees amid reduced travel demand from the coronavirus pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traveling through Las Vegas airport during coronavirus pandemic - VIDEO
Passengers travel through the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Thursday, March 12, 2020, amid concerns of the coronavirus pandemic. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts to temporarily close buffets amid coronavirus fears - VIDEO
MGM Resorts International will temporarily close its Las Vegas buffets, effective Sunday amid growing coronavirus fears. (Al Mancini and James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices break bubble-era record - VIDEO
After more than 13 years, Las Vegas house prices have finally eclipsed their bubble-era peak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)