China claims its citizens are "reluctant to visit" the United States given the escalating trade tussle and safety concerns, even as tourism agencies in the U.S. say they see no current evidence of a slowdown.
China's state-controlled Global Times tabloid reported on Wednesday that "interest in traveling to the U.S. has withered as peak vacation season approaches."
It's the latest salvo in the growing tensions between the two nations. Tourism is a rich vein that China can tap to hurt the U.S. economy. Chinese tourists rank as top foreign spenders in the United States and summer is traditionally one of the peak times of year for tourists traveling from mainland China and Hong Kong to California and other U.S. locations.
The Global Times article cited data from Mafengwo, a local trip-planning site, that showed searches down in the first six months of 2018 for major American travel destinations such as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
The paper said the data from Mafengwo also showed increased interest in travel to Russia and some European countries, including France. It said the switch to other destinations "could hurt" key sectors of the U.S. economy that rely on tourism.
The report comes on the heels of China's embassy in Washington late last month issuing a security advisory to its citizens about potential dangers traveling in the U.S., including to be alert to "suspicious individuals, and avoid going out alone at night.”
"I would expect that the Chinese would play up the angle of the trade war costing the U.S. in terms of tourism because they want to amplify the impact," said Martin Chorzempa, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.
"If people in the tourism industry see these things, the Chinese might hope that they put pressure on the U.S. administration to roll back some of these [tariff] measures because of the costs they would impose on the U.S.," he added.
Chorzempa said he doesn't expect the travel advisory to have very much impact on Chinese tourism numbers. He believes the bigger impact will be Beijing's "pushing of a patriotic line 'not to go to the U.S."
Earlier this week, the paper ran a story headlined: "China should make tourism, services the main battlefield in trade frictions with U.S.