Despite trade war, China’s Chinese tourists don’t seem too worried

WASHINGTON — Tourism officials from the U.S. and China predicted on Wednesday that American travelers will continue to be deeply welcomed by the Chinese in the coming months, despite strains in their relationship over trade.

“My gut feeling is that China, we have reached a low point,” said John Mendlein, a prominent marketing executive and chief executive of Global Xchange, a Miami travel company. “We have moved into the ‘what do I do now’ mode. It’s not anymore what did we do wrong?”

Both parties’ representatives were at The Washington Post for a news conference at a financial company’s conference in Bal Harbour, Florida, to announce new initiatives to boost visitors from China — the United States’ second-largest source of tourists, behind Canada.

The events come as American officials have been debating how to respond to Beijing’s decision this year to impose steep tariffs on U.S. airlines, an escalating dispute that was set to intensify this week.

The Commerce Department is expected to publish a final report this month on whether to place China in a category of countries that are too protective of their intellectual property to allow them to export such stuff to the United States.

Even though tension over trade had already been rising in some U.S. cities, the trade dispute has once again made news and raised fears of a broad trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

But Mendlein and Yin Yuesheng, the vice president of the Hong Kong-based China National Tourism Administration, said there was no major concern that the recent standoff would affect their countries’ relationship, in part because so many Chinese travelers have been coming to the United States for years.

“I think this is the normal course of events,” Yuesheng said. “If something big is happening, we don’t get worried. However, if we are talking about something that may change the situation, then it causes worries.”

John Trump, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said the administration’s focus was shifting back to the economic fallout on workers in certain industries — and the growth that some businesses had been enjoying thanks to Trump’s tax cuts.

“I get convinced as a matter of fact everyday about how blessed we are,” he said. “I get meepy. I get a little lump in my throat. But I don’t know.”

While Trump said he didn’t expect the United States’ trade policy with China to change in the short term, he said he hoped it would reflect in a more steady approach once the hotheadedness had died down.

But he added, “We’re waiting to see. It’s really hard to say.”

Most Chinese tourists traveling to the United States are currently citizens of Hong Kong and Taiwan, but the arrival rate will jump once those cities open for visitation — a process that some officials have said could take some time.

The United States has long had an overabundance of hotel rooms and tourist attractions, and the state of Florida has no shortage of tourist attractions. But Chinese consumers, who have historically preferred saving money for their own travel, haven’t been making that choice so much lately.

The drop-off in demand for U.S. tourist attractions coincides with a host of problems for Chinese businesses in the United States — from corporate espionage charges against a Pennsylvania wood-pulp factory, to an embarrassing accounting oversight by a U.S. beauty supply company.

As such, Yin said the situation was particularly volatile, particularly in the foreign investment realm.

“Generally, [the] situation is very difficult in China, in foreign investment,” Yin said. “We have been in such difficulty in the foreign investment sector, and there is no need to introduce such confusion in trade because once there is a framework … then the investment will be approved more easily.”

Mendlein said the Chinese tourism market was growing enough that it would take five years for it to stop being a threat to U.S. businesses. He said it would likely take another five years for American consumers to become less interested in luxury products from China.

“We feel as business people, we are saturated in many things in the United States,” Mendlein said. “So I think it’s only a matter of time before Chinese people migrate their spend to other places.”

Rosa Golijan contributed to this article.

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