New 10-Year Visa for Chinese Travelers May Finally End the Hassle Factor

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Washington, DC – The Obama administration’s decision to extend the lifespan of visas for Chinese business travelers to 10 years should make life easier for trade show managers who are anxious to bring more Asian buyers to exhibitions in the U.S.

The move, which was aimed at expanding Chinese travel and tourism in the U.S. in general, will likely provide a major benefit for the trade show industry by finally reducing the long waits for visas for Chinese executives planning trips to events on this side of the Pacific.

“Anytime that travel barriers and hassles can be minimized, it can help drive attendee and exhibitor participation,” said Skip Cox, CEO of Exhibit Surveys Inc., and chairman of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). “IAEE has been a strong proponent of reducing visa restrictions on international buyers and exhibitors wanting to participate in U.S. exhibitions, so this is good news.”

The reciprocity agreement between Washington and Beijing took effect November 12, and makes visas for travel between the U.S. and China valid for up to 10 years rather than the current one year. With any luck, the move will lead to a surge in the number of Chinese visiting the U.S. for trade shows, conferences, business meetings and general tourism. “This policy will harness the growing Chinese travel market,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “The effects will be strong and immediate.”

Chinese Travel Surge
The optimism over tourism from China is based on forecasts, such as the October 30 prediction from the Global Business Travel Association Foundation, which concluded that China had brushed off the headwinds of the recession and was on track for a 35% pop over two years – a 16% increase in outbound international travel this year followed by another 19% spike in 2015.

Show organizers have contended for years that a large number of potential attendees from China could not secure travel visas on short notice due to the long waits for paperwork processing and personal interviews. Loosening the visa bottleneck has been a top legislative priority for IAEE and the rest of the industry in recent years and was a major point at the Exhibitions Day lobbying mission to Washington, DC in June.

Although new visa applicants will still have to undergo the current interview process, eliminating the need to repeat the process every year should have a ripple effect that will make the process easier on both applicants and U.S. State Department staff.

“It will remove the inconvenience of making people travel annually to one of the five visa processing centers in China,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, told Trade Show Executive (TSE). “Changing the cost, the required face-to-face interviews and financial disclosures to once every 10 years instead of annually will encourage greater numbers of Chinese to visit and do business in the United States. This will also free up U.S. embassy staff to process visa requests more quickly and cut wait times.”

The change may also shorten the marketing window for U.S. show organizers courting the Chinese audience by increasing the odds that first-time attendees will be able to secure their visas in time for the show. “ I believe we will have better attendance at U.S. trade shows, including fewer no-shows,” said Cherif Moujabber, president of the international advisory firm Creative Expos & Conferences and the recipient of the first annual IAEE International Excellence Award in 2014.

A World of Options
The move may also have a positive impact on Asia’s exhibition industry by making more U.S. attendees and exhibitors willing to register for trade shows in China. “Lengthening the validity of visas for both China and the U.S. has significant potential for growing the exhibition industries of both countries,” Cox said.

Moujabber and other industry veterans active in Asia agreed that trade shows staged in the Far East and in Europe would still remain an attractive alternative for Chinese attendees for the simple fact they are closer to home and possibly a more comfortable and productive environment than a show geared to an American audience.

Jimé Essink, CEO of UBM Asia, told TSE: “The biggest hurdle to growing the number of Chinese business visitors to U.S. trade shows remains the strong orientation of many trade shows towards American markets, rather than international markets.  It is often for this reason that Chinese business visitors prefer to visit European trade fairs that have a more international focus.”

So, there is no guarantee of a new gold rush of attendees from China to Chicago, Las Vegas or other points on the U.S. trade show map, but the door to the new visitors has been opened a bit wider.

Reach Skip Cox at (732) 741-3170 or skip@exhibitsurveys.com; Gary Shapiro at (703) 907-7610 or gshapiro@ce.org; Roger Dow at (202) 408-8422 or rdow@ustravel.org; Cherif Moujabber at (508) 660-7099 or cherif@creative-expos.com; Jimé Essink at +852 2827 6211 or jime.essink@ubm.com