At China International Travel Service in Pasadena, Frank Li dialed up clients to tell them the good news: As of this week, one-year tourism and business visas to and from China were good for 10 years. That means travelers need only apply once — and pay one fee — for the privilege to make multiple visits to either the U.S. or China, under an agreement between both countries announced Monday.
"It caught many people by surprise," Li said. "It changed so fast."
Li said the new policy will be a boon for L.A., already the most popular U.S. destination for Chinese travelers.
"Everybody is happy here — the hotels, the retail, the theme parks, the airlines," Li said.
In 2013, 819,000 Chinese traveled to the Golden State, and 70 percent — more than 570,000 — stopped off in LA, according to Visit California. That number is only expected to grow. The non-profit, which promotes California tourism, projects the number of Chinese coming to California will double by 2017, said Ryan Becker, spokesman for the Visit California.
"Every year, the projections almost defy belief, but they keep proving themselves, over and over," said Becker. To keep the trajectory up, Visit California has launched a new television campaign in China:
According to Clayton Dube, executive director of USC's US-China Institute, the most popular L.A. locales for Chinese travelers include Universal Studios and Disneyland.
The city, he said, also serves as the port of entry from which Chinese travel to San Diego, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. "My expectation is anything that simplifies the process for coming to America means LA is going to benefit more than other places," Dube said.
The Chinese often come in big tour groups that squeeze several top destinations into one visit. But Li predicts the new visa policy will encourage more Chinese to make repeat visits that take them away from gateway cities such as L.A. - to wineries along the coast, for example.
"They will forget the group. They will have their own itinerary, they will rent a car, a GPS," Li said.
Jean Wei,an operation manager of China International Travel Service in Pasadena. She called a client to apologize for processing a visa application before the new visa rules were announced Monday.