The US has recorded a nearly six per cent drop in tourist arrivals from China last year, marking the first fall in 15 years.
Travel from China to the US fell 5.7 per cent in 2018 to 2.9 million visitors, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.
The fall comes at a vulnerable time for the US tourism industry, as an escalating trade war between the US and China is seeing tit for tat measures creeping into the tourism sector. Last year, China issued a travel warning for the US, telling visitors to beware of shootings, robberies and high costs for medical care. The US retaliated with its own warning about travel to China.
In what could be an ominous warning for Australia, the drop is not only related to politics, but also economics, with growing economic uncertainty in China pushing Chinese travellers to stick closer to home.
The Chinese Outbound Tourism Research Institute found that 56 per cent of travellers leaving China in the last three months of 2018 went to Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan compared with 50 per cent in 2017.
However, the US government is still confident that Chinese tourism will grow two per cent this year to 3.3 million visitors and will reach 4.1 million visitors in 2023.
“Even if the Chinese economy cools, it’s still going to continue to be a very good source of growth for the travel industry,” said David Huether, senior vice president of research for the US Travel Association.