What is driving away the Chinese?


Travellers from China to the USA decreased for the first time in 15 years in 2018, according to data from the Department of Commerce's National Travel and Tourism Office. 2018 saw 2.9 million Chines tourists compared to 3 million in 2017.

In addition to trade tensions, concern by Chinese travellers over safety, stricter security policies and airfares worked against travel to America, according to tourism research group Destination Analysts. US authorities have been tightening up visa restrictions on Chinese applicants, many of whom were either denied a visa or put through lengthy additional screening.

After the figures were released, Chinese government agencies added further pressure by warning its citizens against travelling to the USA. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a travel alert citing reports of harassment by US law enforcement agencies, including immigration checks and home visits. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism warned of frequent shootings, violent crimes, robbery and theft that threatened or harmed the safety and property of Chinese tourists. The Ministry of Education warned students that the USA has shortened visas and rejected more applications.  This was just the latest salvo in the escalating trade war between the two countries.

The American travel and tourism industry is worrying about the prospect of losing more business from China, amid protracted bilateral trade tensions on exports. The USA may not regard tourism as exports, but Chinese authorities do, and Chinese trips abroad have been growing strongly and steadily. Chinese tourists made 150 million trips worldwide in 2018, and the number will be higher in 2019. 

This drop in Chinese tourist flow could have implications for the US inbound medical travel too.

Birth tourism crack down

Nobody knows exactly how many expectant Chinese mothers travel to the US every year in order to give their children US citizenship, as the federal government does not keep a count.

Anti-immigration group, the Centre for Immigration Studies, claims that every year, between 30,000 and 40,000 babies are born in the US to foreign women, mostly from China and Russia.

Agencies in China say that more than 50,000 Chinese nationals deliver babies in the US every year, but these figures are from the ‘boom’ years of 2016 and 2017.  Since then, encouraged by the Trump Administration, US federal and local agencies have cracked down on birth tourists by prosecuting travel agents, agents, hospitals, medical professionals and specialist hotels claiming a wide range of offences related to tax, healthcare and immigration.

Indications suggest that the trade has dropped significantly as the real risks run by operators and agents include fines, imprisonment and deportation.

Will US politics influence medical travel flows from elsewhere?

While America's President insults the Chinese on Twitter, many European and Asian countries are targeting Chinese tourists and medical tourists with niche marketing and the use of social media.

Will threatened trade wars with Japan, Mexico, the European Union and any other country that draws President Trump's anger, further reduce the number of tourists to the USA?

It is unknown just how much effect politics has on where medical tourists go, but given this dip in Chinese tourists to the USA, it’s a risk or opportunity that medical travel destinations should consider.



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