Chinese tourists in Times Square: A huge number of nation’s growing middle class is expected to visit city after new agreement allowing China’s travel agencies to promote tours.
City tour operators are smacking their lips at the prospect of an influx of nouveaux riches from China – the result of a new travel deal between that country and the U.S.
The agreement, signed Dec. 11 by U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, allows tour operators in China to promote group trips to U.S. shores. Commerce figures estimate it could draw an estimated 579,000 Chinese visitors by 2011.
China’s 1.4 billion population includes an increasingly affluent middle class. Already, the Chinese outspend other tourists in New York. Each shells out an average $2,200 per visit, compared with $1,750 by travelers from other countries, said Kimberly Spell, a spokeswoman for NYC & Co., the city’s tourism organization. They gobble up blue jeans, skateboards and other American goods, she said. But they’re especially hungry for the Western luxury products that line Fifth Ave., Madison Ave. and department store shelves.
“All they want to do is shop,” said Jiao Ma, 25, who moved to New York from China about 10 years ago.
Standing outside the Louis Vuitton store at 57th St. and Fifth Ave., Ma said she expects many Chinese nationals to take advantage of the group tours. “They buy tons and tons of LV bags, and then go home and post online ‘Look what I got!'” she said.
Anticipating the agreement, New York City set up a tourism-marketing office in Shanghai in June to promote the Big Apple to Chinese travel agents.Some 145,000 Chinese visited the city in 2006, a number expected to hit 159,000 last year, city officials said.
“We’ve never seen a country with a population this size have a dramatic change in who can come visit,” Spell said. “It’s staggering to think of the potential.”Business travelers dominate the Chinese tourist market, but city landmarks are tailor-made for the tour operators expected to advertise the U.S. to Chinese who enjoy traveling in groups.
Gray Line Tours is now offering Mandarin-language tours of the city; they are about 40% full, said company president Tom Lewis.