According to the California Travel and Tourism Commission, Chinese tourists’ average spending of $6,000 per person during a trip to the US is the highest in the world. Wide selections of designer’s bags and shoes drive Chinese to California on shopping sprees. A 7,000-member Chinese tour group traveled to California last summer, and each member spent $10,000 on average during their one-week stay.
The biggest driver of this growth appears to have been the visa policy approved by Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November 2014, the two leaders agreed to extend tourist visas to 10 years and student visas to five years.
Following the November agreement, U.S. consulates in China have recorded a 68 percent increase in visa issuance, indicating a spectacular increase in the plans for Chinese to visit the U.S. in the future, with most coming at least initially to California.
At the fall 2014 “Visit California Outlook Forum” attended by over 500 California tourism industry professionals at La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs, experts predicted that Chinese visitors will spend $2.2 billion in California in 2015 and 2016.
The China Daily reported that Kathryn Smits of International Tourism at the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board told the Forum that airline service between China and California major gateways of Los Angeles and San Francisco has increased 44 percent.
Chinese airlines have added new direct flights from Los Angeles to cities in China or plan to add flights due to the availability of Chinese-language services to assist travelers. In July, Air China will add a third daily direct flight from Los-Angeles and Beijing and China Eastern Airlines will start direct service to Hefei, in southeast China. Both airlines credit the relaxed visa policy for accelerating growth. Famous Chinese luxury travel magazines, such as the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine, publish more content about California as it’s seen as a U.S. “premium” destination for wealthy Chinese.
The Beverly Hills Visitor Center commented that more than half of the premier stores in Beverly Hills now employ Mandarin Chinese-speaking salespersons. Most stores in Beverly Hills stores accept China’s Union Pay credit card. Five-star Beverly Hills hotels now feature Chinese-style breakfasts and house slippers year round. The Visitor Center also provides shopping maps and discount coupons printed in Chinese.
Well-heeled Chinese tourists seem to like what they have seen on their visits to the Golden State. Southern California real estate agent Le Yuan told the China Daily that he had seen a double-digit increase in clients this January. Many Chinese clients can fly here to see the houses and neighborhood,” Le said. “Travel is just so easy.”
A tour bus pulls up outside the Red Lotus restaurant, one of three Chinese restaurants in a town of about 1,500. Thirty Chinese tourists unload. They immediately start to photograph a nearby sign in Chinese.
“So this sign is saying: ‘soldier, brothers and shooting range’ … you can do it yourself, now, here,” explains my Chinese-English translator, Xuying Wang.
Eric and Beverly Yarger own the indoor range, known in English as Yellowstone Big Gun Fun. They hired someone from China to help them with the Chinese name. And they hire Chinese staff every summer to handle the tourists.
In fact, they set up shop here specifically to cater to vacationing Chinese.
“We were very much aware of the fact that the Chinese come to America to see Yellowstone Park,” Beverly Yarger says. “That’s the number one thing for them to do, and to go to Vegas. And so, we came up here, observed how many tour buses were coming in and how many were Chinese.”
Yellowstone may or may not be the number one attraction, but it is very popular. By opening the only shooting range in town, the Yarger’s have found an activity that Chinese tourists enjoy after spending the day in the park. They estimate that half of their annual business comes from China. Eric Yarger says it’s even more during the summer.
“During the summer, probably 80 percent are Chinese,” he says. “They all like to shoot the AK-47 and the M-4. If its shiny, they’ll shoot it.”
As we talk, another large group of Chinese tourists comes in after a day in Yellowstone. They’re pretty serious about deciding which guns to shoot. The menu — in Chinese — explains their choices: $25 to shoot a rifle or handgun, $50 for a machine gun and up to $349 for a bit of everything. Their tour guide Kevin Zhang says this is a big deal for his clients.
“In China, they seldom have chance to shoot a real gun,” Zhang says. “So I talk with them, [tell] that it’s legal to shoot a gun in the United States. So they have a strong curiosity to come here. Most of them their first time to touch a real gun.”
Choosing a gun was easy for a young man who calls himself “Louis” — he shot the AK-47. Louis says when he plays computer games he uses the AK-47.
Louis says he’ll tell his friends who come here that they should pick a smaller gun, because the AK-47 is very powerful.
But it’s clear that Louis really enjoyed shooting that very powerful gun. He can’t stop smiling. And it’s because of happy clients like this that the Yargers don’t really need to reach out to tour companies in China anymore. Business comes from word of mouth on social media.
Yun Jie from Inner Mongolia was nervous about her first time shooting a gun, so she picked the gentler gun that was recommended. As we speak, she types on her smartphone, telling her friends that she is going to shoot a gun in America. She says she is getting a lot of likes.
And that’s something all business people in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, like to hear.
Published by China Elite Focus Magazines LLC (New York City), the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine has been launched in 2012 as a quarterly magazine in Chinese Mandarin language, featuring a sophisticated content about luxury hotels, lifestyle, private aviation and profiles of famous entrepreneurs.
Considered to be one of the finest luxury travel publications, the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine has been a leader in introducing a vision of understated luxury travel for the new generation of high net worth Chinese world travelers.
Read and trusted by 50,000 Chinese frequent travelers, this magazine is considered by its readers as a trusted and independent voice, publishing stories of uncompromising quality about the finest international travel experiences.
Starting with the April 2015 issue, published on March 20, 2015, the Shanghai Travelers’ Club becomes a monthly publication. Featuring 40% content about the United States, #1 destination for wealthy Chinese travelers, this publication is the most influential travel magazine reaching Chinese frequent travelers.
“Going from quarterly to monthly is an amazing achievement for our editorial team” said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines and Publisher of the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine. “We have been working on this project for six months, due to the success of the magazine and the constant demands from our readers to have more content. We had to expand our editorial team at our Shanghai office, under the direction of Elaine Ke, our Senior Travel Editor” added Pierre Gervois.
With an office in Shanghai and in New York City, the now monthly Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine will consolidate its position as a leading travel & lifestyle media, targeting the world’s most affluent consumers.
Chinese New Year is coming to Tinseltown, again. But this time in an even bigger way.
The Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau (BHCVB) announced Thursday that the city is going to stage a month-long celebration of Chinese New Year starting Feb 1.
It will be the fourth annual Chinese New Year celebration in Beverly Hills. This year, through a partnership with China International Culture Association, Beverly Hills will feature internationally acclaimed entertainment from Beijing in a special one-night event on Feb 1 at Saban Theatre, which will serve as a kick-off of Happy Chinese New Year – Beijing Culture Month.
The program will feature notable acts from the Beijing Performance & Arts Group, including acrobats from the China National Acrobatic Troupe and a Peking Opera piece performed by renowned artist Chen Junhua.
Musical acts will include a pipa solo by Zhou Hui, an erhu performance by Song Fei, known as China’s “Queen of the Erhu”, and a performance by China’s violin master Lu Siqing, among others.
Che Zhaohe, culture consul of China’s Consulate General in Los Angeles, announced that a photography exhibition entitled Charming Beijing, Passionate Winter Olympics will be on display at the same time at the Saban Theatre, featuring 60 images captured in Beijing by world-renowned photographers, including American photographer Joe McNally.
Che also said that China’s intangible cultural heritage will be represented by Tu’er Ye figures, Zhang clay sculptures, Yu family kites, cloth paste paintings and ancient Chinese toys such as the Mao Hou, a tiny monkey shaped toy made with plants and cicada shells.
“It is an honor to have such remarkable talent travel all the way from Beijing to share their inspiring performances and art as we celebrate Chinese New Year 2015 and the Year of the Sheep,” said Julie Wagner, CEO of BHCVB.
As the new visa policy applies, Wagner expects to host more tourists from China during this Chinese New Year holiday. She said participating hotels in Beverly Hills will offer special packages to Chinese guests throughout the month of February. The packages will welcome guests with popular Chinese amenities such as in-room hot water kettles with Chinese tea, Chinese newspapers, slippers and Chinese breakfasts.
In addition, most Beverly Hills hotels and stores will have Mandarin-speaking staff on-site and the visitors’ center will provide walking maps and directories in Chinese. The city’s website has a Chinese version and most stores accept Union Pay.
“We want Chinese tourists and local Chinese residents to feel at home during this family-oriented and most important holiday of the year,” said Wagner. “This is just one of the ways to show our appreciation to the Chinese people who bring business to Beverly Hills. We also want to take this opportunity to enhance our friendship with China as always.”
“The new visa policy will help to promote cultural exchange,” she said.
A greeting in Chinese is important, so hotels should have fluent Mandarin speakers on staff. Teapots and comfy slippers are essential room amenities, while a traditional breakfast of congee, a rice-based porridge, and a boiled egg would be a nice touch.
Cultural sensitivity also demands that white flowers be removed from lobbies, since they can symbolize death to the Chinese.
These are among the cultural tips tourism officials have for hoteliers competing for Houston’s fastest-growing, biggest-spending group of international visitors – critical advice for fostering a segment worth millions of dollars to the Houston economy every year.
“If you do things right for Chinese guests, they will show loyalty,” said Michael Udayan, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Suites, one of the local leaders in adding the touches Chinese travelers expect, from Chinese-language newspapers and television broadcasts to free shuttles to and from nearby Chinatown.
Spurred by new nonstop service between Beijing and Bush Intercontinental Airport, Chinese travelers have emerged as the eighth-largest group of international visitors to Texas and Houston. Five years ago, they weren’t in the top 20.
An estimated 63,000 travelers from China visited Texas last year, and they added $175 million to the Texas economy, including $75 million in Houston. With Air China beginning four-day-a-week nonstop flights last summer, those numbers are said to be increasing.
And while Latin Americans still top the list of international travelers locally, Chinese visitors to Houston are said to outspend Mexican visitors by more than 2-to-1.
Tourism officials are encouraging hotel operators to find new ways to extend hospitality to the world’s most populous country.
“Ni hao, one of the friendliest phrases around, is one you might find extremely useful in the future,” Jorge Franz of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau told hotel owners during a recent meeting, referring to the traditional Mandarin greeting.
The bureau is working with Air China to develop special tours aimed at Chinese travelers, with visits to local ranches, places like the Johnson Space Center and perhaps even a Rockets basketball game.
“We are putting the word out to sell Houston as a tourist destination,” said Franz.
Several recent visitors from China, those who came for business or leisure and made shopping expeditions to the Galleria or took in sites like Space Center Houston, had some surprising reactions to the Bayou City.
Zhu Lili, 31, a Beijing journalist who visited last month for the first time for work, even gave Houston a thumbs-up for its fresh air and good transportation.
“It is absolutely a city for travel,” she said.
Xu Yan, also 31, enjoyed her vacation here but was surprised not to see “cowboys on the streets.”
Another visitor compared Houston to “the blue sky” and described Houstonians as “very friendly, warm.”
Across the U.S., travel from China was projected to triple during the six-year period from 2012 to 2018.
Houston is expected to benefit for several specific reasons.
The arrival in 2002 of Chinese basketball star Yao Ming as a Houston Rocket piqued much of China’s interest in the Bayou City. Now business opportunities, from oil and gas to real estate, attract Chinese money as well. The launch of nonstop flights has made the city even more accessible, Franz said.
Plus, he added, a local Chinese population of 150,000 and the largest Chinatown in the U.S. may be a draw for families to visit.
Local business leaders say the impact of the new Air China service cannot be overstated. The route was profitable from its first week, and the airline has filled 80 percent of seats since its launch.
“Texas is a well known destination for the most affluent Chinese tourists”, said Elaine Ke, Senior Travel Editor of Luxury Hotels of America, a Chinese Mandarin travel magazine about the United States. “We have published many articles about Texas luxury hotels and other topics such as tailor made boots, and the boot store has seen a surge in Chinese visitors following our article!” She added.
Once the flight goes daily in March, a total of 111,690 seats could be filled, in both directions, annually. Based on the first six months of data, 80 percent of the inbound travelers stay in Houston, a high number for Bush Intercontinental, suggesting Houston is joining the ranks of traditional tourist destinations Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
Bush Intercontinental, which last year set a record for number of international passengers, is expected to surpass that total this year.
Stephanie Haynes, president of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston, said the nonstop Air China flight has encouraged more hotels to cater to Chinese tourists.
“The Chinese represent a different culture than the European travelers we are used to,” Haynes said.
Chinese visitors to Texas, many of whom do not speak English, tend to travel in groups and stay an average of 35 nights and visit multiple cities. They have high standards for their accommodations, Franz said, and are interested in politics and government. For VIP clients, he said, making an introduction to a local politician would be appreciated.
He also said that since Chinese would consider tipping rude, hotels should consider adding a service charge to bills.
At the Westin Galleria Hotel, front-line employees last year began undergoing training in Chinese customs, said John Oakley, director of sales and marketing.
Oakley said a study of city tax records show Chinese visitors spend more than any other group of international visitors.
“There have been more Chinese travelers recently than in the last four or five years,” added Matthew Vesely, director of sales and marketing for the St. Regis Houston, a Starwood hotel in the River Oaks area.
Among its cultural initiatives, Vesely said, St. Regis has a policy to remove all white flowers whenever Chinese travelers are visiting.
Udayan, whose Crowne Plaza Suites is near Chinatown, said he also has seen an influx of Chinese guests since early 2012.
“Because we get so many Chinese travelers here now, our experience is geared toward making them feel very comfortable,” Udayan said. “We did not realize how big it was going to be.”
Sun Meng Han, 43, a human relations manager from Taiwan, visited Houston in July for nine days for her children to attend a NASA space camp. They hope to return.
“We enjoyed the food, shopping and friendliness of people from Houston,” said Sun. “We are definitely coming back soon because we didn’t get to see Jeremy Lin in action this time.”
Source: Erin Mulvaney, Houston Chronicle.