Now Is the Time to Visit China, Traveler Editor Says

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Last year 1.2 million Americans visited China, a figure that's expected to drop by just 300,000 people this year. So, it could be a lot worse. If you were to consult National Geographic Expeditions or another high-end tour operator my guess is that they would tell you China is one of their hottest destinations right now. High-end trips to China and other far-off places are usually planned more than a year in advance. So if they made that commitment to go—back before SARS struck, when China was attracting huge crowds of visitors—most people are not going to cancel their plans. Despite the beating China's tourism industry has taken, I predict that it will be back on track within the next few years. If another epidemic or terrorist incident hits, however, all bets are off.

Let's switch gears. Last September Traveler launched a Chinese edition because more and more people in China are traveling. Why is this?

People in China have more money and are more curious about the world than ever before. Their country's tourism industry has been emerging over the last few years and it will likely get even stronger barring another crisis. So this budding tourism industry has sparked a trend within the general population to look beyond China's borders. And this is just the beginning. Seventy-five percent of people living in China are traveling right now. Though most are staying within Asia, 12 million are leaving the continent, a figure that's increased by 25 percent over the last two years.

What is the global impact of this new sector of travelers?

I predict that the Chinese will become the number one traveling population within the next 20 years. Here's a country whose population engulfs ours. Even if only one percent of Chinese travelers were to visit the U.S., the revenue we would get from them would be astonishing. In fact, the editors of our Chinese edition report that their readers are most interested in major U.S. cities, including New York and Los Angeles, followed by our national parks. So we could literally see our traffic to national parks increase by up to four times, and hotel rooms in major cities will be much harder to get than they are now. But isn't it terrific that we'll be in a position to welcome a country that really has no sense of America beyond what its people see on television? That's how real global understanding starts. Forget the politicians. Let the people meet.

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