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    BEIJING, Oct. 19 (China Daily) -- Slowly rebounding from a plunge in tourist numbers in the wake of the global economic crisis and the H1N1 flu, the tourism industries of China and the United States are hoping that collaboration will bring many happy returns.

    Through joint efforts, the two countries can embark on a "win-win" journey because they are major sources of tourists to each other, Shao Qiwei, head of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), said in an interview with China Daily.  

    The United States is China's fourth largest tourist source market, and the biggest among distant countries.

    China is forecast to be the world's fourth-largest source of outbound tourists by 2020, with 100 million Chinese tourists traveling abroad, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

    Since Chinese tour groups were allowed to travel in the U.S. in June last year - thanks to an easing of U.S. visa policy - the number of mainland tourists to the U.S. has grown quickly.

    According to the statistics released by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of tourists from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region soared by nearly 28 percent, year on year. In January, 70,987 mainland tourists visited the U.S., becoming the only international group to register growth that month.

    But since last year, both countries' tourism industries have suffered from the financial recession and the H1N1 flu.

    According to the CNTA, the number of foreign visitors to China dropped 6.8 percent, to 24 million last year compared to 2007. Among them, the number of US visitors to China has dropped by 6.04 percent to 1.79 million last year.

    Growth did not resume until July. The number of American tourists to China grew by 10.3 percent over the same period last year, partly due to a low base because of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

    Struck by rampant fears about the flu, the U.S. also saw fewer Chinese tourists since May, when many Chinese tourists abandoned U.S.-bound tour plans. Those disadvantages make bilateral cooperation in tourism critical, Shao said.

    "China has not changed its policy of encouraging Chinese citizens to travel abroad even during the global economic recession," he said.

    On Thursday, a third meeting between China's 26 provincial tourism chiefs and their counterparts from 50 U.S. states will be held in Orlando, Florida. Both sides will discuss increased cooperation to promote tourism and sign cooperation agreements, he said.

    The extended cooperation would not only help build stable, longstanding relations between the two countries, but also balance and further explore cooperation in trade and culture, he said.

    "Looking ahead, the two countries' tourism cooperation will have broad prospects and a profound influence," he said.

    Shao will attend a gala dinner in New York on Oct. 19 promoting the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. The event, which opens next May and will run for six months, will give China's tourism industry a strong boost amid the effects of the economic slowdown, he said.

    More than 70 million tourists, exhibitors and media representatives are expected to attend the expo. The CNTA has named the year 2010 as the Year of World Expo and has organized a series of promotions in China's major source markets, including Japan, the Republic of Korea, the US, Russia and Southeast Asia.

    Major media and large travel services in these markets will be invited to China for the fair promotions.