U.S., China sign agreement to increase leisure travel to the U.S.

The U.S. and China have signed an agreement that will facilitate group leisure travel from China to the U.S. and permit U.S. destinations to market themselves in China, the U.S. Department of Commerce said.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and presented during the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Beijing. The MOU is expected to be implemented in spring 2008.

"Today's agreement will open a large and growing market for the U.S. travel and tourism industry," Gutierrez said in a statement.

In May, the United States and China signed a declaration to launch formal negotiations to facilitate Chinese group leisure travel to the U.S. The MOU will facilitate travel for Chinese citizens within the State Department's existing visa procedures, but it may be terminated if significant numbers of group travelers overstay their period of admission, the Commerce Department said. The department did not state whether China has granted the U.S. approved destination status.

In response to the announcement, the National Tour Association said it had already submitted a proposal to the Department of Commerce to create a program in conjunction with U.S. operators to provide group tours for Chinese travelers.

"NTA is well positioned to assist U.S. travel companies in arranging Chinese leisure group travel and is ready to work with industry professionals in both countries," Bob Hoelscher, NTA chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

NYC & Company, New York's tourism and marketing organization, also hailed the agreement, saying that it was "a valuable advancement for the United States' travel and tourism industry."

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Michelle Baran at [email protected].

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