It is true that the average Chinese citizen still earns a very low (but steadily increasing) wage (about $250/month).
But the average Chinese tourist is not the same as the average Chinese citizen. Chinese tourists are members of China’s rapidly growing middle and wealthy classes, people who might earn $2,500 or even $25,000 a month (and it is not unheard of to find people who, while not admitting it, are probably earning more like $250,000 a month).
There are more than a million millionaires in China (a number that grew by 30% in 2010).
These same wealthy/middle class people (not the millionaires, just the ‘ordinary’ middle class) might live in an apartment or house that costs as much or more than our houses or apartments cost – housing costs in Shanghai and Beijing make Los Angeles and New York look like cheap places to live in. Their car might be newer than our car, and their internet speed is probably faster. We need to stop thinking of China and its people as being poor and backward. The country is likely to soon become the world’s largest economy, and with the world’s largest population, the demographics of its quickly expanding wealthy/middle class are compellingly appealing to marketers all around the world, and deservedly most of all, to tourism marketers and national tourist organizations.
Of greatest relevance to us is the fact that the average Chinese tourist is also, nowadays, one of the biggest spenders in the world; indeed, back in 2009, this USA Today story quoted the US Commerce Department as saying that Chinese visitors, back then, were spending about $7200 per person when visiting the US.
Flash forward two years to 2011, and what with inflation on the one hand, and a much stronger Chinese yuan on the other hand making the US a cheaper destination (encouraging more spending and shopping in particular), and it is reasonable to estimate that these days Chinese tourists are spending maybe $9000 or more per person when visiting the US.
So that sort of provides prima facie evidence of a person’s bona fides, you might think, especially when they are traveling in a pre-arranged group and have paid the tour cost up front before leaving China. If a person can afford to spend that sort of money on a trip to the US, they are by definition one of China’s rapidly growing wealthy/middle class – people who many times live a lifestyle that is every bit as affluent as we live here in the US. Such people are not potential over-stayers, they are people with good jobs and lives back in China (indeed, in many countries in the world, the former influx of Chinese immigrants is reversing, with the immigrants now returning back to China where they can enjoy better lifestyles, with better paying jobs and futures).
A reader in China has just told me about how a group of fellow alumni from a Chinese university’s business school – MBA graduates – had arranged to go on an 18 day tour of the US, with a cost per person of US$11,000. The tour was themed as a business continuing education tour, and included visits to companies, chambers of commerce, and some formal classes arranged by a Harvard lecturer, as well as a healthy dose of tourism as well.
So, here is a group of 21 moderately wealthy MBA graduates, each spending $11,000 for a semi-business tour of the US, plus likely to spend many thousands of dollars more on food, drink, entertainment, shopping and souvenirs. They were all required to apply for US visas in person, so after waiting an interminable time for an appointment to be interviewed, they flew over 1,000 miles to the nearest US Consulate and were interviewed en masse.
Twelve of the 21 people were refused visas. Only nine were granted visas.
This is asininity on a grand scale, because due to the group size collapsing from an appropriate number of 21 to a too-small number of only nine, it is probable the entire group will now be cancelled.
So what promised to be a cash infusion of probably about $300,000 into the US economy has now been zeroed out to nothing, while 21 wealthy successful Chinese business people have been given a reason to hate the US – I quote ‘they are so angry because it is so unfair’. An attempt to positively showcase the best of US commercialism instead ended up inadvertently exposing the worst of US idiocy.
It is easy to understand these people’s frustration – in their country they are wealthy, successful, and respected; but some junior US Embassy official, who earns much less money than they do, has treated them like something smelly you’d clean off your shoe and refused to allow them to come and bless us with their cash.
Even more frustrating is the apparent randomness of such refusals – what was the missing magic ingredient that nine of these 21 applicants did have that the other 12 did not? And most frustrating of all is the lack of transparency in the process – there’s no way of knowing if you’ll be granted a visa or not, and, if refused a visa, you have effectively no appeal or recourse whatsoever.
The situation has become so extreme that the United States Embassy in Beijing has now cancelled its former pitiful once a week two hour session where it would agree to meet US citizens who were trying to understand and help the visa issuing process on behalf of Chinese citizens. Not only are the Chinese totally disenfranchised, but our so called ‘public servants’ now refuse to answer to us as well as to why and how it is they are so capriciously refusing visas to people we desperately need to come and visit.
In the meantime, President Obama is instructing the Immigration Department to stop deporting illegal immigrants from Mexico, and instructing the Justice Department to sue states that attempt to enforce some of the country’s immigration laws themselves.
Why are we so welcoming of illegal immigrants who promptly become a drain on our nation’s welfare system, while refusing to accept wealthy tourists who rather than draining our already empty welfare budget, promise to fill our pockets with their generous spending? If President Obama can impose a moratorium on enforcement of Immigration laws, why can’t he also impose a moratorium on whatever byzantine process is being used to refuse visitor visas to wealthy foreigners?
It doesn’t matter what you think about illegal immigration from Mexico; whether you support it or not. Because surely, whatever your opinion on that topic is, you can see the glaring inconsistency between welcoming and assisting illegal immigrants – people who in many cases become an immediate burden on our welfare, while simultaneously making it close to impossible for bona fide wealthy tourists to come and spend their money here.
Our country’s highest priority right now must be to boost incoming tourism, and particularly from China. Let’s face it – our chances of exporting electronic goods from the US and selling them in China are close to zero. Inbound tourism is one of the only ways we can get closer to a balance of trade with China, and happily is also one of the quickest and easiest ways to grow our economy and our employment.
Is it too much to hope that President Obama’s upcoming speech on employment will include an announcement that he is going to make it much easier for foreign visitors to come and spend their money with us? If you know any politicians, perhaps you could pass the suggestion on.
There’s a growing clamor from other countries, all around the world, to attract wealthy Chinese tourists and benefit from their profligate spending. Here’s an example, just this week, about Australia – one of the most successful international tourism marketers. The Australian government is eagerly encouraging and welcoming Chinese visitors. Tourism Australia’s corporate plan for the period 2011-14 projects a growing share of tourism into Australia from all Asian countries (with China the most prominent), rising to 42% of all visitors to Australia, and has China as its highest priority market for future marketing investment (see this report on page 15).
It isn’t just China. Intending tourists from most other countries find it similarly difficult to get visas to visit the US; and visitors from countries with reduced visa requirements such as the UK and EU often report on rude and arrogant treatment at the hands of immigration officials upon arriving in the US and resolve never to come back. Ask any foreigner what they think about the US policies and treatment of foreign visitors, and be prepared to get an irate earful of unhappiness.
Why can’t the US be more welcoming? We, just as much as any other country, also desperately need their money and the jobs their visits would create.