November 22, 2016
Washington, DC – On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivered remarks at the Warner Theater to celebrate the conclusion of the 2016 U.S.-China Tourism Year. U.S. and Chinese leaders designated 2016 as the U.S.-China Tourism Year in an effort to strengthen tourism and commercial ties between the two countries. In the U.S., government and industry worked together to enhance the tourism experience for Chinese visitors and improve cultural understanding.
In her remarks, Secretary Pritzker emphasized China’s remarkable growth into one of the world’s top tourist destinations since her first visit to the country over 30 years ago. Last year, 2.6 million Chinese visitors visited the United States, up from 400,000 in 2007. However, this represents only two percent of the outbound Chinese market. To help close this gap, President Obama and President Xi agreed to extend the validity of most tourist and business visas from 1 year to 10 years, and student visas from 1 year to 5 years.
Good evening! I am thrilled to be here at the beautiful Warner Theater to celebrate the finale of the 2016 U.S.-China Tourism Year. On a night like tonight, I can’t help but reflect on my first visit to China, more than 30 years ago. My trip to Beijing and Shanghai in 1984 was truly amazing. I had the opportunity to walk along the Great Wall and take in the historical architecture along the Bund. I particularly loved walking along Wangfujing, seeing so many people on bicycles and talking to vendors along the street. But looking back, what I am most grateful for was the opportunity to see China then, so I could appreciate what it has grown into today. Since that trip, I have had the good fortune of returning to China many times for both business and pleasure. And I have witnessed China’s incredible evolution into one of the most remarkable and popular tourist destinations in the world.
Even as this evolution was taking place in China, travel and tourism between the U.S. and China remained stagnant for decades. That changed in 2007 when our two countries signed a memorandum of understanding allowing packaged leisure travel from China to the United States. That year, approximately 400,000 Chinese travelers visited the United States. Last year, that number had grown to 2.6 million. At the same time, travel to China from the U.S. has also grown significantly – and we have reached our shared goal of 5 million visitors between our countries. Yet, even with this success, there is so much room to grow. The United States only captures two percent of the outbound Chinese market, despite strong demand from the Chinese to visit our shores.
To help close this gap, President Obama and President Xi agreed to extend the validity of most tourist and business visas from 1 year to 10 years, and student visas from 1 year to 5 years. In the first twelve months after this historic announcement, the number of applications by Chinese citizens for visas to the United States increased by 53 percent. But even with this monumental progress, our countries’ leaders knew there was so much more opportunity – so they designated 2016 as the U.S.-China Tourism Year.
Let me just give you a couple examples of why this was such a great decision. In the United States, we have leveraged the Tourism Year to inspire hotels, restaurants, and public and private destinations in every single state and territory to make themselves more attractive and welcoming to Chinese visitors. From the government perspective, we installed Chinese language signage in key airports and developed new travel itineraries in Mandarin for popular destinations like the Grand Canyon. And I am pleased to say that China is moving forward with plans to develop a Chinese national park system and working with the U.S. park service to apply our best practices, models, and lessons learned.
As we close the Tourism Year and look to the future, I want to assure all of you that we will continue to promote more travel and tourism between our nations. Through this the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, we will continue to work with industry and our Chinese partners to address market access issues, such as opening the sale of outbound travel in China to U.S. companies and Ensuring the ability of foreign global distribution services platform to operate in China.
But tonight, we celebrate. We celebrate all we have achieved over the past year to bring our peoples closer together. Now, I have the honor to share a message from President Obama…
“I am proud to join in celebrating the closing of the 2016 U.S.-China Tourism Year. The U.S.-China Tourism Year has enabled the American and Chinese peoples to experience new cultures, explore new places, and get to know one another. As our two countries continue working together to address global challenges, we reflect on this year as one in which we deepened our people-to-people ties and strengthened one of the largest bilateral trade relationships in the world. A future of peace, prosperity, and friendship depends on our efforts to under each other. That is why the United States will continue to welcome the Chinese people to our shoes – whether to hike through our National Parks, dine in our vibrant cities, or learn more about our rich history – while also encouraging Americans to discover all that china has to offer. Congratulations to all those who worked to make this Tourism Year a success. I am grateful for your efforts and am looking forward to the future of continued cooperation that lies ahead”. – President Barack Obama