At home in Shanghai, Yu Jing used to daydream over pictures taken by her husband on business trips to the United States, imagining herself on a sandy beach in Southern California, strolling through Hollywood or visiting other famous U.S. tourist spots.
Yu, a 29-year-old housewife, got her wish recently when she and her 2-year-old daughter accompanied her husband--who is teaching under an exchange program at the University of Arkansas--to an academic conference in Anaheim.
After her husband’s business meetings, the family visited Disneyland, Hollywood, the beaches and other Southern California attractions before heading north to San Francisco.
“A lot of Chinese want to come to America,” Yu said. “Their impression of America is very good.”
Chinese tourists still make up only a small number of the millions of foreigners who visit the United States each year, but their numbers are growing rapidly, thanks largely to China’s increasing prosperity. The number of Chinese visitors rose 17% to about 293,000 last year from about 250,000 the year before, according to U.S. government statistics. In 1990, fewer than 200,000 Chinese visited the United States.
Although most Chinese visit this country primarily for business or education, they are also taking the opportunity to see the sights. More Chinese would visit purely for pleasure, according to some travel agents, if U.S. officials would grant more visas. Meanwhile, they say, Chinese have the itch to travel and are increasingly visiting nearby countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
U.S. cities may be missing out on a potentially lucrative new source of tourists, these agents say.
“There have been a tremendous number of requests to come here,” Gloria Lan, a travel agent at Los Angeles-based Jetours, said recently during a seminar at the Anaheim Visitors and Convention Bureau that focused on tourism from China.
However, Lan said, most of the Chinese who have contacted her have been unable to get visas. “There are a lot of obstacles,” she said.
The State Department does not discriminate in granting visas on the basis of nationality, a department spokesman said. But U.S. officials in various countries have the discretion to deny visas based on suspicions that applicants might attempt to stay in the United States illegally, said Gary Scheaffer, press officer of the Bureau of Consul Affairs at the State Department.
The problem for Chinese applicants, Scheaffer said, is the recent increase in illegal immigrants from China. U.S. consuls in China have been especially cautious since the discovery last year that many illegal immigrants were being smuggled into the United States on ships from some of China’s impoverished coastal provinces.
“What you are trying to do is to judge intention,” he said. “There’s a pretty strong indication that there are those with a serious pull to immigrate to the United States.”
One reason for the recent increase in illegal immigration is that China’s new prosperity is spotty, leaving out large areas of the country, including the poor southern province of Fuzhou.
The economic boom is most dramatic in the coastal cities of Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, where per-capita income has risen dramatically in recent years to over $1,000, according to Chinese statistics. Prosperity has given some residents of those areas the means to travel and government economic reforms have opened the door by encouraging more Chinese to travel abroad for business.
Los Angeles and San Francisco are the ports of entry for 64% of Chinese visiting the the United States, according to a 1992 survey by the California Division of Tourism.
“Hollywood is famous,” Yu said. “Young people (in China) like American films and they are familiar with American stars.”
Chinese visitors also find Los Angeles’ variety of retail stores and amusement parks appealing, travel agents say. According to a survey, 70% of Chinese visitors said shopping was a major activity for them during their stay in California.
Chinese visitors tend to save up for a trip abroad, Lan said, and often spend heavily, especially on clothes and electronic goods, because they are either cheaper in the United States or unavailable in China.
“A lot of things are cheaper here,” Lan said. “You have such a large market, with products coming in from Japan and other countries. So you have more variety. . . . Southern California is very attractive to Chinese,” he said. “That’s why they choose this place (for business).”
Yu said Chinese visitors seem not to be deterred by California’s high crime rate or other problems that have contributed to a decline in Japanese tourists coming to California.
“They consider the crime and the danger,” she said, “and they just try to avoid it.”
On the Go
Chinese citizens account for a small percentage of the millions of foreign visitors to the United States each year, but their number has grown more than 50% since 1990. In thousands ’93: 292.96