Chinese tourism overseas will double in the next six years to 200 million people a year, according to a recent report from analysts at CLSA, and a tiny US military outpost 900 miles north of the equator in the Western Pacific could be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
The hilly 200-square-mile island of Guam, population about 160,000, could see 50% growth in Chinese tourists, analysts say, the most of any destination.
In ultimate numbers, that’s still not huge: 21,000 Chinese tourists traveled to Guam in 2013, compared to over 3 million Chinese tourists who went to Thailand, the most popular foreign destination. But the growth in Chinese tourists to Guam has already skyrocketed from 1,000 in 2007, and Guam businesses are lobbying the US Congress to pass a visa-waiver program (paywall) for Chinese citizens that could make that growth even faster.
Guam’s proximity to the rest of Asia (it’s a three to five hour flight from several major cities) has already contributed to a boom in tourism, mostly from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, that has transformed the island’s economy. The US military base was reliant on defense spending for decades, but tourism now supplies about 60% of Guam’s revenues.
Taiwan’s “Hello Kitty” airline, Eva Air, started regular flights to Guam from Taipei in 2011, and nearly 1 million Japanese vacationers come every year to enjoy the island’s mix of white sand beaches, coral reef and air conditioned duty-free shopping malls.
Guam’s military history might prove as much of a draw for the Chinese, who are clashing with Japan and other Asian neighbors over the rights to islands and territory in the South China Sea. In July, Guam celebrates its liberation from the Japanese, who landed in 1941 and were driven from the island by the US in 1944, with a month of parades, festivals and the crowning of a “Liberation Queen.”
Hotels and shopping malls on the Las Vegas Strip will welcome Chinese tourists with free gifts, lucky draws, dragon dancing, and traditional Chinese entertainment during the Lunar New Year. Feng shui masters have even been called in to create floral displays with Chinese themes in shopping malls, hotel lobbies, and other locations as Lac Vegas pulls out all the stop to welcome Chinese travelers, who are visiting Sin City in ever increasing numbers. Luxury Hotels of America, a Chinese mandarin travel magazine has already planned a special issue on Las Vegas due to the high demand of its affluent Chinese readers.
“We recognize the value and power of the Chinese traveler,” says Janet LaFevre, Senior Marketing Manager, Fashion Show and Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian.
“We are expanding our reach to the Chinese tourist through recent sales missions to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou, along with Chinese advertising campaigns, social media, and trade show participation. Our efforts are already paying off via our cooperation with UnionPay, which will help to draw even greater numbers of Chinese shoppers to Fashion Show and Grand Canal Shoppes.”
Brian Chuan, Director of Tourism Marketing and Development for Macy’s Inc., which has a large department store at the Fashion Show shopping mall, is equally upbeat.
Along with Grand Canal Shoppes, Fashion Show is collaborating with UnionPay – China’s most popular credit card – to make Chinese travelers feel welcome in Las Vegas during the Lunar New Year.
“We have partnered closely with UnionPay and have accepted UnionPay card payments at all our stores for nearly 10 years,” Brian says.
“Macy’s has a dedicated tourism marketing team offering exclusive visitor programmes, and our Fashion Show store features a Visitor Center to service visiting guests. In celebrating the coming of the Year of the Horse, Macy’s will further our focus in welcoming Chinese shoppers with special in-store events, displays and merchandising at select destinations.”
Chinese travelers are becoming a force to be reckoned with in many parts of the world, and Las Vegas is no exception.
“China is currently the number one source of international travel to Las Vegas from Asia and continues to grow at a rapid pace,” says Michael Goldsmith, Vice President of International Marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
“Las Vegas welcomed 263,000 visitors from China in 2012, a 40% increase from the prior year.”