A surge of Chinese tourists is expected to visit New York City this year, prompting hoteliers and tour operators to better cater to the group by offering amenities from tea kettles in rooms to translated welcome packets.
NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism organization, expects a 20% increase in visitors from China this year compared with a weak 2009 when the recession cut business travel-the major impetus for Chinese travel to New York. If the estimate holds up, 223,000 tourists from China will come to New York this year, topping the 2008 record by a small margin.
Nationwide, the U.S. Commerce Department predicts a 22% increase in travelers from China in 2010. Through February 2010, 141,071 tourists from China and Hong Kong have visited the U.S., ranking China ninth among arrivals, and an 86% increase over last year. Tourism experts say New York is usually on the agenda for Chinese visitors to the U.S.
Some city hotels have experience in catering to the Chinese. The Mandarin Oriental has long-offered a traditional breakfast of rice congee, soy-poached chicken, steamed pork bun and a boiled egg. But now it is developing Chinese language cards and letters to welcome guests and explain local attractions.
An in-house translator and complimentary tea kettles and tea in-room for Chinese guests is also in the works. The New York Marriott Marquis also serves a traditional Chinese breakfast in its Encore Restaurant and has Mandarin speakers on staff.
At the Waldorf Astoria, Stanley Wong, a Cantonese-speaking senior concierge, says more Chinese tourists will be a boost for retail across the region. His affluent clients like shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and often request a trip to the Woodbury Common outlet in Central Valley, N.Y.
“Sometimes they don’t speak any English but they know Woodbury Common,” he said. (A spokeswoman for the Premium Outlets Division of Simon Property Group said that Woodbury Common is the largest destination for Chinese visitors of its 42 shopping centers in the U.S.). ” New York City is by far the #1 shopping destination in the World for Chinese travelers, before Paris and London”, also declared Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, a Shanghai based marketing agency.
On a recent afternoon in Times Square, tourists from China took photos in front of Broadway banners. Yumin He, a 56-year-old teacher from Beijing, made his first trip to the U.S. this month for a wedding. He and his wife traveled across the country with a daughter who lives in San Diego and had been in New York for a week.
“People were really optimistic, the food is good, the environment is great and the air quality is great,” Mr. He said. The family also visited Philadelphia, Boston and Niagara Falls. “We weren’t able to see everything in depth. We just skimmed the surface with sightseeing because everything with the tour group was really rushed,” he said.
Though the majority of travel from China to New York continues to be business-related, the leisure sector is growing, largely because of an agreement signed two years ago that made it possible for groups to travel from China to the U.S. China’s growing middle class also accounts for an increase in leisure travel.
Today’s Chinese tourism market is similar to where the Japanese market was 10 years ago, said Richie Karaburun, president of GTA Americas Inbound, a tour wholesaler based in New York with offices in Shanghai and Beijing. “Within seven to 10 years, if we play our cards right, China will be one of the biggest markets inbound to the U.S.,” he said. The company has seen a triple-digit increase in bookings from China over last year.
Most of the standard tourist attractions in Manhattan are popular with visiting Chinese. But tour operators also say one lesser-known site very important to Chinese visitors is the “Charging Bull” sculpture in Bowling Green Park. Says Mr. Karaburun: “Many Chinese think if they touch the bull, they will have good luck on the stock market.”