The National Tour Association has closed its Visit USA Center in Shanghai now that Brand USA is taking the lead in marketing the U.S. to Chinese leisure travelers.
However, the tour association will remain very active in the China inbound market and continues to manage its China Inbound Program (CHIP), NTA president Lisa Simon told Travel Market Report.
Since NTA launched its China program in 2008, total Chinese visitors to the U.S. (not just tourists) rose from 493,000 to more than 1 million in 2011, according to the Office of Travel & Tourism Industries. The office projects more than 1.5 million visitors in 2012.
Brand USA’s core business
“Brand USA’s core business is to market the U.S. overseas,” Simon said. “NTA’s primary goal is to educate the trade in China about the U.S. and to facilitate business between the U.S. operators approved to operate travel programs here and the Chinese operators approved to sell it.”
NTA opened the Shanghai office in 2008. That was two years before passage of the Travel Promotion Act that created Brand USA. Brand USA has not yet announced where its representation in China will be located.
“NTA felt we needed a unified voice in the market,” Simon said. “We received strong support and a positive response from the Chinese media. It was an exciting time for them in terms of Chinese tourists being allowed to travel legally to the U.S.”
Chinese group tourism
CHIP was established after the U.S. and Chinese governments signed a memorandum of understanding allowing Chinese leisure groups to visit the U.S through Chinese travel agents working with approved U.S. tour operators. NTA manages that list of tour operators which now numbers about 150.
The number of Chinese tourists in groups handled by NTA-approved tour operators was an average of 46,709 for the first two quarters of 2010, according to the Department of Commerce. That rose to 121,180 according to the department’s most recent survey, conducted in the third quarter of 2012.
Simon said NTA will continue to provide consulting and educational sessions and organize trade events in China.
For the past few years it has operated the U.S. Pavilion at the China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market. It’s a relatively small show so NTA, instead of Brand USA, will again operate it at this year’s event in Beijing in April.
NTA’s marketing efforts will include a focus on China’s second- and third-tier cities. “We will not only be trying to connect the Chinese with U.S. tour operators but also educate them on the U.S. market,” Simon said.
NTA spent about $250,000 each year to operate the Shanghai office, Simon said. A government grant paid 30% of that cost.
Simon called NTA’s efforts “a pay-to-play marketing program,” in which participants pay the group a fee that offsets costs.
“These are self-sustaining programs that pay for themselves,” she said.