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Remarks from U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Travel and Tourism Between the U.S. and China

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker highlighted the productive travel and tourism sector relationship enjoyed by the U.S. and China during a speech at the Travel and Tourism Cooperative Program hosted by the U.S. Travel Association earlier today.  U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Vice Premier Wang Yang also spoke at the event. The Travel and Tourism Cooperative Program was one of the many side events with private sector companies taking place around the JCCT negotiations. 

During her remarks, Secretary Pritzker pointed to the recently announced U.S.-China Visa Validity Agreement as proof of the success of this relationship. Last month, President Obama and President Xi announced an agreement to extend the validity of tourist and business visas from 1 to 10 years and student visas from 1 to 5 years. With this change in visa policy, 7.3 million Chinese visitors are expected to travel to the U.S. by 2021 -- contributing nearly $8.5 billion per year to the economy and supporting as many as 440,000 jobs.

Secretary Pritzker also addressed the need to take additional steps to support the increased travel demand that will accompany the visa validity extension, including the expansion of airline capacity and infrastructure investment.


Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Roger, for the kind introduction, for being such a great leader for the travel and tourism industry, and for your partnership in hosting this event.

Historically, the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade has been an opportunity for government-to-government discussions on trade and investment issues between the United States and China.

But this year, for the first time, we decided to bring the voice of business to the table on the margins of the plenary – to listen to the ideas and insights of the private sector and to use their expertise to inform our policy discussions and decisions.

Given the importance of travel and tourism to both our countries – as an engine for economic growth, as a model for collaboration, as a source of mutual understanding and respect – it is absolutely essential that this industry play a central role in our reimagined vision for JCCT.

Indeed, Ambassador Froman and I were very happy when Vice Premier Wang suggested we focus our collaborative efforts this year on the travel sector.

Travel and tourism represents big business for the United States. Today, I am pleased to announce that international visitor spending totaled $18.5 billion in October 2014 alone, and China is a huge contributor to those numbers, as the fastest growing market for inbound travelers to the U.S. In fact, travel and tourism from China represents 56 percent of all service exports for the United States.

This was not always the case; not long ago, travel and tourism took a back seat to other pressing issues and did not garner the attention it deserved.

That changed in 2007. At that time, the United States and China signed a memorandum of understanding at the annual meeting of the JCCT allowing packaged leisure travel from China to the United States. We look forward to the full implementation of the MOU. Our countries set a target of 5 million people traveling between our two countries. Today, I am pleased to say that we have all but met that goal.

Yet, despite our remarkable progress in recent years, there is still far more to do to increase travel between the United States and China. I know President Obama and President Xi agree – and their recent actions are proof of their shared commitment to this sector.

Just a few weeks ago, our presidents announced a significant agreement to strengthen our ties in travel and tourism –by extending the validity of tourist and business visas from 1 to 10 years, and student visas from 1 to 5 years. What this means is: starting now, American and Chinese travelers will not have to apply for a new visa each year, making travel easier and less costly.

This is a big deal. With the change in our visa policy, we expect up to 7.3 million Chinese visitors to travel to the U.S. in 2021 – contributing nearly $85 billion per year to our economy and supporting as many as 440,000 jobs. This is four times the economic and job impact as today. Indeed, this agreement could do more for the U.S.-China relationship, for mutual understanding between our nations, communities, and peoples, than nearly any other policy change.

But if we are really going to capture the value of this policy development here in the United States, we have more work to do. We must work to meet the increased demand that will accompany the visa validity extension – by: ensuring that we have airline capacity; investing in infrastructure that can handle the increase in visitors; collecting updated market intelligence; and expanding market access for the sale of outbound travel.

Today’s event is all about accelerating travel and connections between our two countries and mapping the road ahead.

I encourage you to use this event in a real and productive way – by highlighting not only opportunities, but addressing the challenges to increasing travel and tourism between our countries.

I hope you will set ambitious goals for our travel and tourism agenda – and push those of us in government to take concrete steps to meet them.

I urge you to focus on what we can do to promote more travel between our countries. Your work will advance greater understanding between our peoples and expand cooperation, spurring growth and prosperity in both the United States and China.

Thank you all for being here today, and for your meaningful contribution to this important bilateral relationship.