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Chinese visits to U.S. are expected to grow despite China’s economic woes

Chinese tourists shop at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce on Wednesday, August 12, 2015. Despite an uncertain Chinese economy, tourism officials expect visits from China to continue to grow. (Christina House / For The Times)

Chinese tourists shop at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce on Wednesday, August 12, 2015. Despite an uncertain Chinese economy, tourism officials expect visits from China to continue to grow. (Christina House / For The Times)

(Christina House / For The Times)

Despite the recent devaluation of the Chinese currency and the ensuing economic turmoil, tourism officials remain optimistic that one of China’s most coveted exports — big-spending tourists — will continue to head to the U.S. in huge numbers.

Tourism officials from the U.S. and China, meeting in Los Angeles for a four-day summit, downplayed any impact from the recent tumult in the world’s second-largest economy, saying they foresee no slowdown in the stream of outbound Chinese tourists.

“It is having no impact on travel to the U.S.,” said Michael Merner, who oversees China, Japan and South Korea for Brand USA, the promotion campaign for travel to the U.S. He added that tour bookings to the U.S. remain strong and flights from China are full. “Literally, the flood gates are open,” he said.

Chinese visitors have become vital to the U.S. tourism industry since China began several years ago to ease travel restrictions on its burgeoning middle class. China has become the fourth-largest source of inbound tourism to the U.S., with about 2.2 million visitors last year, a 20% jump over the previous year. Chinese visitors spent $23.8 billion while in the country in 2014.

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But worries arose that the stream of high-spending tourists might slow down after China devalued its currency last month and announced a shake-up in the way it sets its exchange rate, sending ripples throughout the world’s economies.

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Chinese tourism officials acknowledged a shift in the country’s economy but said they expect Chinese people to continue to spend on travel abroad.

“I think we will maintain the fast momentum,” said Zhang Lizhong, director general of the China National Tourism Administration.

Los Angeles tourism officials also said they expect no change in the annual double-digit growth of Chinese visitors. The Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board hopes to open its third office in China this year in the city of Guangzhou.

“The long-term view is bright.” said Ernest Wooden Jr., president and chief executive of the tourism board, noting that China is home to 350 million middle-income residents. “There are always going to be some hiccups.”

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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