China tourism officials, moving slowly to allow the fear of SARS to
fade, have begun launching a recovery program that includes plans
to work more closely with U.S. travel agents.
The China National Tourist Office (CNTO) of Los Angeles is
planning advertising campaigns, and in six cities including
Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, agents will be invited to
mini-trade-shows in late September, said director Yan Wang.
A cornerstone of the recovery plan is the launch of China’s
first specialist program for U.S. travel agents.
The Certified China Specialist (CCS) program, as it will be
called, will require four weeks of study at home and passing a
test. The training will eventually be accredited by the Institute
of Certified Travel Agents, said Wang.
China specialists must sell at least three packages the first
year, and each subsequent year, to remain active. Member benefits
will include invitations to fam trips and agent events, mailings
with updated tourism information and tour operator products, and
incentives for top-selling agents.
Details will be released at the Pacific Asia Travel Association
Western Chapter’s PATA U meeting in Indian Wells, Calif. Oct. 9-12,
as well as Sita World Travel product seminars through the fall.
Tourism to China was booming before the SARS outbreak brought a
virtual halt to U.S. travel there. Mainland China saw the number of
U.S. travelers decline 82 percent in May compared with the previous
year, according to the most recent statistics available, said
The CNTO’s first priority, said Wang, “is to recover the
confidence of the U.S. public.”
Though travel advisories for China were dropped in June, and
tour operators have already started promoting deeply discounted
deals for China travel, Wang said the tourist office’s efforts will
begin in earnest in August.
“People need a certain period of time to get rid of the image of
SARS,” said Wang. “We want them back to China as soon as possible,
but need time for people to accept that China is safe.”
Unlike Hong Kong, which saw an influx of government funding for
post-SARS tourism promotions, the CNTO’s Western office in Los
Angeles is not expecting any budget increase. The office operates
on a $200,000 to $250,000 annual budget.
Tour operators say their promotions so far are selling well.
Ritz Tours, for example, offered a 10-day China and Yangtze
River tour, with airfare from Los Angeles or San Francisco, all
meals and attractions included, for $999.
The 320 spaces available were 90 percent booked within a week,
said Evan Chan, director of Ritz Tours’ Asia division.
“We were hesitant about discounting,” said Chan, because Ritz
Tours is a “five-star brand.”
“You run the risk of hurting yourself,” said Chan. “But it’s
what the market needs right now.”
Abercrombie & Kent is offering a 5 percent discount on
select China itineraries booked before Aug. 31 for travel before
But George Morgan-Grenville, president of Abercrombie & Kent
Inc., said hotels in China have been reluctant to discount because
they have already taken a financial hit during the SARS
Instead, A&K is working with hotels to offer added value,
such as room upgrades or dinners at the China Club.
In addition to offering discounts, Pacific Delight Tours is
operating tours with a minimum of two people, as opposed to the six
to 10 that would have been required pre-SARS, said Irene Chen,
director of tour development.
Expectations for the fall are low, but the CNTO and tour
operators are pushing the Yangtze River at a tourist
Construction on the Three Gorges dam project was completed in
June and water levels are rising. Within the next several years,
many of the river valleys attractions will be flooded.
But the rising reservoir has opened up new tributaries giving
travelers better access to sights they previously would have
missed, said Morgan-Grenville.
Pacific Delight Tours, for example, will be offering 12-day
agent fam trips on the Yangtze in September and November, with a
shorter trip likely in October, which is unusual in high
“We think people who have been to China before will want to see
the Yangtze River now,” said Mary Frances Barnett, Pacific
Delight’s regional sales manager.
“There are some new sites open, and some older sites are still
above water.” A&K is also offering agent fam trips, said
Morgan-Grenville. “We believe that product knowledge sells at the
end of the day.”