“Chinese tourism is going to be low,” said Chunjuan Nancy Wei, an associate professor of international political economy and diplomacy at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. “Coronavirus has no doubt soured public opinions on both sides.”
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is about 8 miles from a market that is considered a possible source for the virus. While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on May 3 that there’s “enormous evidence” the virus began in the lab, World Health Organization emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan told The Associated Press that Pompeo’s theory is speculative.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the clearinghouse for the web of U.S. spy agencies, has ruled out the virus being man-made but is still investigating the source of the global pandemic, according to the AP.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, tweeted March 12: “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao provided no evidence.
Impact on relations
An April report from the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization Eurasia Group Foundation found positive views of the U.S. among those in China have fallen about 20 percent since last year. Another report released last month from the Pew Research Center shows roughly two-thirds of Americans now have unfavorable views of China, from 47 percent in 2017 to 66 percent this year.
But ever since this dispute between the origins of the virus arose, she said some are calling the U.S. “Chou Guo” on the internet, meaning “ugly country.” Others have replaced the usual Chinese characters for America, which mean “beautiful, powerful and strong,” with characters with the same pronunciation that mean “incapable of testing” to mock the country’s COVID-19 testing deficiency.
Osburg said there’s “clearly” been an uptick in anti-American and anti-foreign sentiment in China in recent months and that the state-controlled media in the country has pushed the narrative that foreign countries, “especially the United States,” have bungled their response to the virus.
Growing death tolls in the U.S. also “do not help,” she said.
“Images of long lines outside food banks, soaring unemployment, collapsing GDP, and politicians’ vows of punishing China all suggest to them this is not a good time to visit the U.S., including Las Vegas,” Wei said.
May data from nationwide marketing initiative Brand USA shows those in China are 37 percent less likely to travel internationally in the next 12 months, compared to last year. Concerns over travel restrictions, limited experiences due to COVID-19 and fears of contracting the virus were their top reasons for holding back on travel.
According to data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, visitors from China made up the fifth-largest group of international visitors in Las Vegas in 2018, accounting for 4 percent of all international tourists.
“They are an important and valued visitor to Las Vegas,” LVCVA spokeswoman Lori Nelson-Kraft said.
But it will take time before many of these customers return. Nelson-Kraft said international visitation in Las Vegas won’t see a rebound until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, and Nevada has the ability to widely test and contact-trace the virus.
“We believe one of the first opportunities to attract international visitation will come from Canada and Mexico, due to their close proximity and high level of interest in visiting Las Vegas,” she said.
Wei believes that in order for Chinese visitation in Las Vegas to bounce back, the U.S. will need to get the virus’ spread under control and form friendlier relations with China — something she suspects will be “unlikely” in an election year.
But Osburg doesn’t think anti-American sentiments will be a significant factor in Chinese people’s decision to travel to Las Vegas, for either business or leisure. He said some could actually be even more eager to travel to Las Vegas trade shows for business purposes, since many factories in China are “desperate for orders” after being forced to shut down.
“I think economic factors will be more significant than fears surrounding the virus or lingering hostility to the U.S.,” he said. “However, if infection rates spike up again, then fears surrounding the virus will definitely have a significant impact on travel to the U.S.”
Contact Bailey Schulz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.