Obama's China Meeting to Boost Travel, Helping Hotels and Airlines

TAIPEI, Taiwan (TheStreet) -- Past meetings between Chinese and U.S. presidents have led to deals for top American companies. So where's the beef, the airplane parts, the natural gas-powered buses as President Barack Obama visits Beijing this week? Answer: At home.

Obama's attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders summit in Beijing this week hasn't produced agreements directly benefiting U.S. companies, but it has made travel between the two countries easier, and that could provide an indirect boost to U.S. airlines and hotels.

China and the U.S. agreed Monday to extend the validity of multiple-entry tourist and business visas to 10 years from the previous one year. Multiple-entry student visas have been extended to five years or the length of the study program. The changes takes effect Wednesday.

"The ability of people from both countries to visit each other for business purposes will greatly strengthen and deepen commercial relationships between the two countries and further facilitate investment," the American Chamber of Commerce in China said in a statement Monday.

"And longer validity for tourist visas will be a boon for the U.S. economy, creating numerous jobs, as well as encourage Americans to visit China more frequently," the statement also said.

China also agreed during Obama's visit to quit blocking an expansion of the international Information Technology Agreement. China's step back allows 200 more product categories into the agreement if the World Trade Organization approves it. That change would cut tariffs on as much as $1 trillion in goods, the American Chamber of Commerce says.

Meanwhile, Russia and China strengthened their industrial ties, possibly at the expense of U.S. companies. Chinese state media announced after a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Sunday that Russia would open a second natural gas pipeline to feed industry in its neighbor to the south.

That means a possible market share loss for foreign natural gas suppliers such as New York-listed ConocoPhillips (COP) , which has worked in China for 30 years. A ConocoPhillips representative said the company had no comment.

The visa changes will help the full gamut of enterprises with interests in China. Traveling businesspeople would normally wait days to a week and pay more than $100 to renew their visas to China.

More Chinese arrivals in the U.S. should boost the U.S. hospitality industry, which accounts for 2.8% of GDP. Last year 1.8 million Chinese travelers visited the U.S., adding $21.1 billion to the economy, U.S. government statistics show.

Major NYSE-listed hotel operators such as Hilton Worldwide Holdings (HLT) and big airlines such as United Airlines (UAL) should see bookings go up.

Hilton has hotels in China as well, so Chinese tourists know the brand. United Airlines, for many Chinese, is considered "the airline of the U.S." because of its name and its large number of U.S.-China flights. Hilton could not be reached for comment. United CEO Jeff Smisek heralded the U.S.-China visa deal as a good start.

"As a global company with an important China route network, we support agreements that simplify travel and remove obstacles for our customers," Smisek said in a statement. "We urge continued work with other countries to further remove burdensome restrictions on travel."

U.S. companies probably backed efforts for visa liberalization, said James Berkeley, managing director of London-based Ellice Consulting.

"My instinct is that any pronouncements will have little to do with Obama, and a lot to do with the skills and independent relationships top management in those organizations have fostered with local partners and politicians," Berkeley said.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

Follow @laowiseass

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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