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First Chinese vacationers leave on group tours to U.S
First Chinese vacationers leave on group tours to U.S

About 200 Chinese travelers set out from airports in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong on Tuesday afternoon, becoming the first Chinese vacationers to take part in tour groups to the United States.

"This is a long-awaited trip to the United States. But better late than never," said Li Lianjie, 76, at the Beijing Capital International Airport.

Li and his wife were among a 24-member group from Beijing on a 10-day trip to the United States. They heard there will be a larger group of more than 40 people leaving from Beijing for the same destination on Wednesday.

"America only issued business visas to Chinese travelers in the past. But I am a nobody. There was no way to get a business visa. I just want to have a look at the world while I am still able," said Li, who made a trip to Europe with his wife in 2001.

America had long been a blank on his travel agenda.

The tourists from Beijing are expected to arrive in Washington at about 7:44 p.m. local time Tuesday night, where they are expected to meet up with a 79-member group from Shanghai and a group of 90 from south China's Guangdong Province, according to an official of the Beijing Tourism Administration.

"According to the schedule, the Chinese tourists will be warmly greeted by tourist officials and representatives from the American tourist industry on each stop of their U.S. trip. Welcoming activities will be held in their honor," said Liu Lili, head of the tourist agency department of the administration.

Sun Ming, a guide with the group, told Xinhua that the group tourists will be invited to the meeting venue of the ongoing China-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) in Annapolis, Maryland, which is about a 30-minute drive from their first stop in Washington.

The Chinese SED delegation led by Vice Premier Wang Qishan arrived in Washington on Monday.

The SED is significant for the opening of U.S.-bound Chinese tours. It was at the second SED round in May 2007 that the issue of opening the U.S. market to Chinese group tourists was put on the agenda for discussion.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between Chinese and American tourist authorities on Dec. 11, 2007 to facilitate more Chinese travel to the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Chinese visitor arrivals are forecast to reach 579,000 by 2011.

Sun Weiming, an outbound travel manager with the China Youth Travel Service, said that the memorandum and the ongoing SED sent a strong market signal for outbound travel to the United States.

The travel agency has numerous travel applications, although the cost for the 10-day tour is 20,000 yuan (about 2,857 U.S. dollars), double the per-capita annual income in Beijing in 2007.

Major U.S. cities such as New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Philadelphia are on the itinerary, where Chinese tourists will be booked into five-star hotels.

According to travel agencies in Guangdong, tourists from the south China province would travel to America by way of neighboring Hong Kong, since U.S.-based carrier United Airlines abandoned its planned June launch of direct flights linking the provincial capital of Guangzhou to San Francisco, citing soaring fuel costs.

But the inconvenience did not deter travelers. The first group of 90 from Guangdong was fully booked and more were waiting for future tours.

Xinhua

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