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Chris Jones

Asian Tourists Declining in US

30 September 2003

What will it take to get more Asians to visit the United States?

A group of global travel professionals is meeting in Las Vegas this week seeking the answer to that question.

The Visit US Expo trade show ends today at Caesars Palace. Before its approximately 150 participants return home, however, event Executive Director Frankie Brown hopes many will have gained a new enthusiasm for selling vacations to destinations across the Pacific.

Brown said the concept of holding an annual travel expo dedicated to the Asian market was born in late 2001 in response to a series of changes within the sector. Following this year's challenges -- which include the war in Iraq, economic problems in several nations, as well as ongoing fears of terrorism and severe acute respiratory syndrome -- such specialized promotion is more valuable than ever, she added.

"Yes, (Asian travel) is coming back," Brown said. "But it's coming back slowly, and we're still being affected by those issues.

"I'd say we've turned a corner, but it's turning very slowly."

Brown said there's no easy solution to reviving the Asian travel sector, which the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries estimates is down by 21 percent in the first half of 2003. Still, she believes exposing Asian tour operators to American destinations and service providers could help them convince more travelers to return to the United States.

"It's an ever-changing market," Brown said. "Years ago there was a perception that Asians only traveled in groups and they only came to the United States once a year.

"Today, they take multiple trips in a year. They shop for values on the Internet, and they're more likely to travel alone and rent a car while they're here. We want to give them a chance to meet with (North American) vendors one-on-one so their clients feel more comfortable about traveling here."

Asian travelers are typically more service-oriented than visitors from other nations, Brown said. Language barriers also require specialized planning in many cases.

Max Wang, a visiting journalist from Shanghai, said the Chinese travel sector offers great potential for the United States -- especially Las Vegas -- should the U.S. and Chinese governments ease visa restrictions for travel between the two nations.

"Las Vegas is one of the top four destinations for mainland Chinese travelers, but right now it's easier for Chinese to visit Australia or Europe than it is to come to the U.S.A.," Wang said. "There are a lot of wealthy Chinese who would like to visit the United States, but the immigration issues are too difficult now."

Brown said Visit US Expo does not offer a legislative component to deal with visa-related issues.

Last year, Las Vegas hosted 2.78 million foreign visitors, including 192,000 from Japan, 79,000 from South Korea and 33,000 from Taiwan. Those figures were all down significantly from recent years, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Clayton, N.C.-based Visit US Expo is controlled by a private board with sponsorship from United Airlines and Northwest Airlines.