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Tourism year kicked off by Washington, Beijing

Lia Zhu
Updated: Mar 1,2016 9:16 AM     China Daily

Li Jinzao, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration (center), US Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews (second from left) and Max Baucus, US ambassador to China (right), attend the opening ceremony of the US-China Tourism Year 2016 in Beijing on Feb 29, 2016. [Photo/China Daily]

China and the United States launched the US-China Tourism Year 2016 at a ceremony in Beijing on Feb 29.

The tourism year was announced by President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama during Xi’s state visit to the United States in September.

It aims to increase travel and tourism between the countries by enhancing the travel experience, increasing travelers’ cultural understanding and expanding the appreciation of natural landscapes.

Li Jinzao, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, passed on Xi’s wish to see more Americans in China.

“The shortest direct flight between China and the US takes 11 hours while the longest takes 16 hours. The Pacific Ocean does not prevent people from visiting each other,” Li said. “In 2015, total bilateral visits surpassed 4.75 million. We hope the number will surpass 5 million this year.”

Major events scheduled include one with 1,000 American tourists visiting the Great Wall, to be held at the wall’s Jinshanling section in Hebei province on March 25; a tourism promotion in the US titled Beautiful China-Maritime Silk Road; a high-level China-US dialogue on tourism to be held in northwestern China’s Ningxia autonomous region; and a grand closing ceremony at the end of the year.

China has become the fourth-largest source of foreign tourists for the US and is expected to become the largest by 2020.

In 2015, 2.5 million Chinese traveled to the US. The number is expected to hit 2.97 million in 2016. Chinese visitors spent $23.8 billion while in the United States in 2014, according to the US Department of Commerce, accounting for 57 percent of services exports to China.

Travel and tourism is the largest US services export, generating nearly $220.8 billion and supporting more than 1.1 million US jobs, according to the US Department of Commerce.

Christopher Thompson, Brand USA’s president and CEO, said the tourism year gives an “enormous platform” to the travel industry to increase visitor numbers and enhance travel experiences between the two countries.

“If you look at the Chinese market, only 6 percent of people have passports-and we get 6 percent of that 6 percent-so there’s just tremendous potential there,” he said.

“The year in tourism is going to give us a big stage under bright lights and gives us a chance to raise our storytelling and build the relationships through the China National Tourism Administration and our Commerce Department in ways that we probably couldn’t have done without that increased focus,” Thompson said.

Wu Xi, deputy chief of mission at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said tourism is a good way to improve mutual understanding and trust.

“Tourism is an important carrier to boost people-to-people exchange between China and the US,” Wu said at a news briefing at the embassy on Feb 26 ahead of the grand opening ceremony scheduled on Monday in Beijing to mark the 2016 US-China Tourism Year.

“It’s an effective way to deepen the understanding and friendship between the two peoples and an important source to boost bilateral economic and trade cooperation.”

Chen Weihua in Washington contributed to this story.