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Texas hotels ready to welcome Chinese visitors

Night-Skyline-LowRes1A 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.
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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.

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From Hipster To Horseback: According to Pierre Gervois, Publisher of Luxury Hotels of America magazine, Chinese Luxury Travelers Demand Authentic Experiences

Pierre Gervois, Publisher Luxury Hotels of America - China Elite Focus

Pierre Gervois, Publisher of Luxury Hotels of America, New York, October 2014

As China’s outbound tourist market rapidly expands, high-end hotels and retailers across the world are vying for the business of this important group. In the United States, one company on the front lines of this trend is China Elite Focus, a New York-headquartered, Chinese-language publisher that has been producing luxury travel magazines for Chinese readers since 2008. With content focused on destinations, hotels, cuisine, retail, and philanthropy, the magazines were created to meet demand by moneyed Chinese travelers for content on authentic, upscale experiences.

In order to learn more about how China’s luxury outbound travel market has evolved over the past six years, we talked to China Elite Focus CEO and Publisher Pierre Gervois about the changes he’s seen in Chinese travelers’ taste. Read below to hear his thoughts on Chinese travelers’ interest in getting a taste of American culture, the decline of the Chinese “100 percent shopping trip,” and how this fall’s Golden Week fared for U.S. luxury businesses.

What inspired you to start China Elite Focus?

In 2008, after having served as the president of a consulting company specialized in foreign investments in China, I decided to start a new publishing company and to publish high quality luxury travel magazines in Chinese Mandarin. A lot of my Chinese friends complained to me that they could not find any publication in Chinese language with curated and sophisticated content for their outbound travels. So our mission, from the beginning, was to bring to them beautifully written travel stories about the world’s most spectacular and exclusive experiences. I’m very proud of the job we have done with our team of very talented travel editors, lead by our Senior Travel Editor, Elaine Ke. Today we publish there magazines: the Shanghai Travelers’ Club, Luxury Hotels of America, and American Philanthropy.

How is the content of your magazines tailored to a Chinese audience?

All the content of our publications is written at our Shanghai office by Chinese editors. We do not translate from English an existing article; we produce our own original content. We are in constant exchange with our readers through Weibo, and we know what kind of themes or destinations they want to read stories about. For example, we have noted a strong interest for travel to the United States over the past year, and we have increased the stories about luxury travel experiences in the United States.

We’ve been reading a lot about how wealthy Chinese travelers are becoming more interested in “experiential” travel rather than just basic shopping and sightseeing. Have you noticed this trend growing among your readers?

That is true. The time of the “100 percent shopping trips” is done. The new generation of affluent Chinese outbound travelers is now very mature, extremely well-informed, and wants to discover new experiences, off the beaten tracks. We have published stories about horseback riding experiences in the Nevada desert in Luxury Hotels of America which had great success with our readers. Chinese shoppers tend now to plan much more carefully and in a very sophisticated way their shopping plan abroad. They are looking for more limited-edition items of lesser-known brands they have discovered on social media networks, rather that already well-known global brands, who have saturated the market with products over-marketed to Chinese customers.

One of your magazines focuses exclusively on luxury hotels in the United States. Which U.S. hotels are the most popular with Chinese travelers at the moment?

Luxury Hotels of America features in particular historical hotels, or hotels with a connection to the American culture. The kind of U.S. hotels that Chinese travelers like are boutique hotels, lodges, and ranches with a connection to nature and wildlife. We have seen a significant shift from standardized, large-size hotel chains to much smaller hotels offering a personalized experience. In New York City, we have seen that hotels in Brooklyn, built in former factories, in “hip” neighborhoods were a great success with Chinese travelers, as well as properties in the American West, offering a genuine local experience.

How was this season’s Golden Week for luxury hoteliers and retailers in the United States?Gervois Rating Banner 01

We have recently discussed with several well-known retailers in the United States, and they have been surprised by the evolution of the shopping behavior of Chinese customers and their use of social media to compare brands and know exactly where to buy. It was not uncommon for them to see Chinese customers with their iPads and mobile phones texting to their friends about brands and retailers. The digital integration of the shopping experience is now extremely important and mobile payments such as the Apple Pay will definitely be very popular with Chinese shoppers in the United States. Since the beginning, we have integrated our content with social media, and we are very pleased with this trend.

What are some ways in which U.S. luxury businesses are doing a good job of reaching and serving Chinese tourists? What are some ways in which they can improve?

U.S. luxury brands and luxury hotels can do much better! They are doing all right, and have a big margin to improve their relations with Chinese travelers on the three following points:

-No more stereotypes about Chinese tourists. A lot of U.S. hospitality, tourism, and retail companies still create marketing campaigns with the stereotype in mind of group tourists traveling in coaches, staying in cheap hotels, with entirely pre-arranged shopping programs. Most Chinese travelers do not want to travel this way anymore and choose themselves their hotels and their shopping experiences, without the help of travel agencies.

-Chinese travelers to the United States are looking for a genuine American experience. Some U.S. hotel chains have developed programs specifically for Chinese travelers with rooms decorated in a Chinese style, offer Chinese food only, and entertainment programs linked with Chinese culture. This is exactly the opposite of what Chinese tourists really want. They write to our editors and complain with us that they want to find a real American experience in hotels, not a “fake” Chinese experience! They have traveled for thousands of miles to have a taste of American culture and civilization.

-A more sophisticated and thoughtful marketing strategy with Chinese customers. U.S. luxury brands must understand that, in order to sell to Chinese tourists in the United States, they must start to promote and do branding in China, with specialized digital media targeting Chinese travelers planning their trip to the United States. It’s too late and very little effective to promote their brands in printed magazines or tourist guides distributed in airports or hotel lobbies, because the purchase decisions have already been made several weeks ago, in China. Digital native advertisement (sponsored content) is also very effective to create brand awareness. Chinese customers are early adopters of the newest technologies, and old-school marketing does not work and looks “uncool” to them. Social media integration and sponsored content are the two pillars of a successful campaign with Chinese tourists coming to the United States.

Source: Jing Daily

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Huson International Media appointed to represent Luxury Hotels of America magazine

LUXURY HOTELS OF AMERICA FINAL LOGOHuson International Media has been appointed by China Elite Focus Magazines LLC as the exclusive advertising sales force in North America for Luxury Hotels of America digital magazine.

Ralph Lockwood, President of Huson International Media, comments, “We are delighted with this new partnership which will allow us to develop the advertising revenues for Luxury Hotels of America. This technology-forward publication leverages the popularity of tablets, smartphones and social media to offer affluent Chinese travelers up to date and comprehensive information about the leading hotels and resorts in the United States. The new generation of international vacationers from China are more independent, and less likely than their predecessors to book packaged tours or use a travel agent, and Luxury Hotels of America is perfectly positioned to reach this audience, as they plan their US vacations. The publication is an ideal addition to our already robust portfolio of international media reaching affluent travelers around the world.”

As Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines and Publisher of Luxury Hotels of America, says “We have chosenLHA 1 Huson International Media as our exclusive advertising sales force in North America because of their proven track record of a leading media representation company. We have been impressed by their professionalism and understanding of the new generation of  independent and affluent Chinese travelers coming to the United States. Working closely with Huson International Media will allow Luxury Hotels of America to increase its advertising revenues with North American advertisers such as hotels and resorts, luxury brands, airlines, entertainment parks and tourism boards.”

Headquartered in Silicon Valley, with locations in California, New York, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands, Huson International Media has been representing media owners in Consumer, Fashion, Electronics, Computing, Business, and Finance sectors since 1988. With a current partnership line-up of more than 60 media-owners worldwide including divisions of Gruner + Jahr, Reed-Elsevier, Prisma Presse, and News Ltd, Huson International Media is one of the world’s leading media representatives.

Headquartered in Hong Kong, with offices in Shanghai and New York, China Elite Focus Magazines is the leading publishing company specialized in luxury travel magazines for affluent Chinese outbound travelers. With publications such as the Shanghai Travelers’ Club, Niuyue Mag, VIP Golf USA and Luxury Hotels of America, China Elite Focus Magazines provides a high quality content in  international luxury travel and lifestyle to the new generation of sophisticated Chinese travelers.

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California expecting more affluent Chinese shoppers

Chinese shoppers - Luxury Hotels of AmericaCalifornia’s No. 1 market for overseas visitors is China, said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, a non-profit geared toward maintaining and developing tourism marketing programs in the state.  She said Chinese tourists spent more than $1.6 billion in 2012, and spending levels are expected to increase, with China’s growing middle class and the easier access to visas for U.S. travel.
“We’re seeing a trajectory on China that is once in a career or lifetime,” Beteta said.
And it’s that growth that many tourist attractions and venues want to capture in sales.
Beteta’s non-profit hosted a forum at the Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena on Wednesday, where more than 460 people gathered to discuss tourism issues, including how to better cater to Chinese travelers.
The tourists are coming from large metropolitan Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing, as well as second-tier cities like Qingdao, Hangzhou or Chengdu.
Reports  show a growing interest from affluent Chinese nationals to invest in American real estate, business and send their children to the U.S. for study. Additionally, Chinese millionaires tend to be on the younger side. The average age of a millionaire in China is around 37, compared to 57 in the U.S.
One key factor is also how much money tourists from China spend – an average $170 a day in L.A., which compares with tourists from other locales spending an average $163 in L.A.

But how to convince affluent Chinese tourists to choose a U.S. destination versus another? Chinese travelers have their secret weapon in their iPad. Several digital travel magazines entirely in Chinese mandarin are now published for the famous Apple tablet, and have a tremendous impact on how Chinese tourists plan their trip to America. Publications like Luxury Hotels of America, Niuyue Mag, or the Shanghai Travelers’ Club have gained tens of thousands of new readers over the last year. According to Sam Wang, a Shanghai businessman traveling three to four times a year to the U.S. “I read Luxury Hotels of America before choosing a hotel because they have a high quality editorial content about hotels that I can’t find in regular travel websites or booking engines in China.” He also said ” I want the top hotels where American famous people go, not the hotels for tourists that are advertised by cheap travel agencies”.
Businesses are hoping to give tourists more reasons to come to their attractions by pulling out all the stops. Hotels like the Hilton are offering Chinese breakfast, with dishes that include rice porridge. And stores like Macy’s are offering a 10 percent discount that can be used on some luxury brands.
Gervois magazine - The new travel magazine for millennials travelers in the United States“We’ve done a number of promotions to make it very easy and appealing for the consumers to shop at Macy’s,” said Brian Chuan, director of tourism marketing and development at Macy’s. “We have the products that they want. We carry all the American designer brands that they are looking for.”
He said Chinese tourists spend the most money at Macy’s compared to any other international group. Macy’s tracks the sales by how much the tourists spend on their international credit cards. He said it’s cheaper for Chinese tourists to buy the American brands here, because in some cases it might cost three times more in China.
“We see them leaving with an extra luggage filled with things they want to bring home,” Chuan said.
Chuan also said Macy’s accepts the China UnionPay card, which is a payment card associated with network of banks in China. That makes it convenient for shoppers who don’t want to pay in all cash.

Spending from international visitors make up just 3 percent of Macy’s overall sales at its 800 stores nationwide, Chuan said. But he pointed out that at some locations, spending from international tourists could make up 20 to 50 percent of a store’s total sales, he said.
Chuan travels to China to market Macy’s to groups such as tour operators and banks. Macy’s doesn’t have any locations in China, but Chuan said people there are familiar with the brand.
Macy’s has 13 stores with visitor centers, that allows customers to check in their bags. Centers in Southern California include one in San Diego and Downtown L.A., for its close proximity to the convention center and Staples Center. At key stores, Macy’s may have Mandarin speaking staff.
It appears to be working. Just one day last week in New York, buses dropped off about 1,500 Chinese travelers at the Macy’s, he said.

Source: Southern California Public Radio / W. Lee

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Chinese New Year: Las Vegas Lays Out Red Carpet for Chinese Tourists

Chinese gamblers - China Elite FocusHotels 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.”

Source: http://www.accidentaltravelwriter.net

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Chinese tourists have become the highest-spending overseas visitors to the U.S. and valued customers for U.S. shopping centers and travel industries

Chinese tourists - Chanel store- China Elite FocusMinutes after arriving by bus at an outlet mall in Cabazon, a dozen or so Chinese tourists hustled out to buy luggage that they planned to stuff with high-end clothes, shoes and bags.
But not Guoshing Cui, a Samsung supervisor from Guangzhou. He made a beeline for the Coach store, where he picked out three expensive handbags. He paid more than $800 from a wad of $100 bills.
The bags were gifts for family and friends in China, where Coach goods sell for two to three times the price in the U.S. “It’s a smart move,” he said of his purchases.
That kind of power shopping has made the Chinese tourist the highest-spending overseas visitor to the U.S. and one of the most valued customers for U.S. outlet malls, shopping centers and tour bus operators.
Chinese tourists spend an average of $2,932 per visit to California, compared with $1,883 for other overseas visitors, according to the latest statistics by the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. A big chunk of their spending — about 33% — goes for gifts and souvenirs.
“What we know about Chinese visitors is they don’t like to lay on the beaches,” said Ernest Wooden Jr., president of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. “What they do like is shopping.”
The outpouring of Chinese money helped set a record for spending by foreign visitors to the U.S. — $168.1 billion in 2012, according to federal officials. Los Angeles is getting its share of the Chinese spending: Nearly 1 in 3 Chinese travelers to the U.S. makes a stop in the City of Angels.
“The Chinese middle class is growing and their No. 1 destination is L.A.,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has made two trips to China and will be in Beijing this week to promote trade and travel with L.A.

“Our magazine has featured many articles about California in 2013, due to the high demand from our readers, very affluent independent Chinese travelers who carefully plan their trip to the U.S. and don’t trust much the official group tours travel agencies” said Pierre Gervois, Publisher of Luxury Hotels of America, a mandarin-only luxury travel publication about the United States. Pierre Gervois added “There is often this misconception that Chinese travelers are interested only in cheap hotels: It might have been true five years ago, but the new generation of Chinese travelers are perfectly aware of the quality of U.S. hotels and shopping malls. The South Coast Plaza (Orange County), for instance, has perfectly understood how to welcome Chinese shoppers. It’s an example to be followed by the entire luxury retail industry”
China’s relatively strong economy and its growing middle class means more Chinese citizens have money to travel and spend, according to tourism experts. The middle class in China numbered 247 million people in 2011, or 18% of the population, and is projected to grow to more than 600 million by 2020.
Visitors to California from China are typically professionals, executives or managers, with an average annual income of $66,900 — compared with an annual per capita income of about $5,000 for all Chinese residents, according to statistics from the U.S. and Chinese governments.
To draw in more Chinese spending, store owners, hotel managers and tour guides in Southern California are going out of their way to welcome Chinese tourists.
At the Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon, 20 of the 130 stores employ Mandarin-speaking salesclerks such as Jeffrey Hsu, who works at the mall’s Ugg Australia store.

“I think we understand their customs,” Hsu said. “When someone comes to a foreign country they want to bring back gifts for their family and friends.”
Spending by Chinese travelers has grown so fast in the last few years that it has surpassed the per capita outlays of other high-spending visitors, including travelers from Japan, Australia, Brazil and South Korea.
The customs and unique characteristics of the local economy shape how foreign visitors spend their time and money when visiting the U.S.
Australians, for example, share a similar culture with the U.S. and are more likely than other overseas travelers to visit museums, art galleries and historical sites.
“We are fascinated by peoples of different cultures,” said James McKay, an engineer from Melbourne, whose recent visit to the U.S. included tours of Alcatraz island in San Francisco, the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii and ground zero in New York. He also took a historic tour of Disneyland with his wife, Karen.
Japanese tourists, according to travel surveys, spend heavily at restaurants because certain foods, particularly red meat, are much more expensive in the island nation.
That may explain why Morton’s steakhouse in Beverly Hills has become hugely popular among Japanese tourists.
“Don’t even put fish or chicken in front of them,” Joanna Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the restaurant, said of Japanese visitors. “They come for steak.”
But Chinese tourists tend not to shop for themselves. Most of their purchases — usually high-end clothes and accessories featured in American movies and magazines — are gifts for friends and family.
Chinese tourists in the U.S. target brands such as Coach, Ugg, Polo, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Neiman Marcus and L’Occitane. Steep Chinese taxes make such brands two to three times more expensive in China, said Helen Koo, president of America Asia tours in Monterey Park.
“Many tourists feel that the savings more than pay for the entire trip,” she said.

Source: Los Angeles Times / Hugo Martin

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Boston’s golden opportunities with Chinese tourists

boston-heartBoston is a dense and busy place—a tangle of crowded old roads and highways, office towers, and deafening construction zones. To those who live here, it can feel snarled and frenzied; to those who visit from the suburbs or countryside, it is one of America’s quintessential urban destinations.
But that’s not what Jolin Zhou sees.
Zhou, who moved from China to Amherst in 2007, then moving to Boston in 2009, and works at a company called Sunshine Travel Services, paints a very different picture of the city when describing it to her associates in Beijing and Shanghai. “You can enjoy nature here,” she says. “There’s fresh air, and a relaxing, healthful environment.”
This portrait of Boston as a bucolic health retreat might sound odd to most full-time residents. But it turns out to be central to selling the city to a group that is rapidly growing in size and economic importance all over the world: Chinese tourists.

Over the past several years, cities across America have entered into a strange and unprecedented competition to capture the interest of the world’s most lucrative and fastest-growing stream of travelers. With new wealth, new freedom, a smoother visa process, and the recent introduction of paid vacation days, Chinese tourists are flowing outward and spending huge amounts of money wherever they go. Last year they spent $102 billion globally, according to the UN World Tourism Organization—40 percent more than the year before, making them the world’s highest-spending tourist group for the first time ever.
Not wanting to be left behind, the local tourism industry is trying to figure out what the city and the state can do to capitalize on the steroidal growth of the Chinese market. So far, this project has involved Massport lobbying airline operators to introduce a direct flight from China to Logan Airport, and the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism running seminars for local hotel operators, retailers, and restaurateurs about the quirks of Chinese travelers—that they like warm soy milk at breakfast, for instance, and appreciate it when their rooms come with complimentary slippers and instant noodle cups in the minibar.
But at the heart of this campaign is the task of projecting a “Boston brand” that will stand out from America’s other cities and attractions, reflecting the city’s special features in a way that appeals specifically to the Chinese. In some ways, the portrait that’s emerging is predictable—given the Chinese interest in education, it makes sense that Harvard and MIT are the number one points of interest. But there are also less familiar elements, among them the idea that Boston, compared to smog-choked cities like Beijing, feels profoundly peaceful and healthy.
“Bostonians take all of this for granted, all the great parks and the greenery and the waterfront and the Harbor Islands and the blue sky,” said Pat Moscaritolo, the president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit that works with Sunshine Travel to attract Chinese travelers and promote Boston to Chinese tour operators. He added: “It’s a huge contrast to how people in Beijing and Shanghai live their lives.”
The competition is stiff, as cities around the country scramble to create images of themselves deliberately tailored for the Chinese market. Together, they are conjuring a vision of America, and what it has to offer, that is tuned to the often unexpected ways that people from a different culture might see it.
“It’s that old adage,” said Moscaritolo. “‘You’re never a visitor in your own home city.’”
In August, a group of about 15 Chinese journalists gathered in the backyard of the city-owned Parkman House, enjoying some wine before a “Taste of New England”-themed dinner. The next day, they would travel to Plymouth, and the day after that, Cape Cod. “Every one of these international visitors is a walking stimulus package!” exclaimed Moscaritolo, who helped plan the trip in hopes of inspiring the journalists to publish stories telling their readers to come to New England.
Right now, that is not what most Chinese tourists do when they visit America. Instead—as part of large, organized tour groups—they tend to fly into New York or California, which have direct flights connecting them to Beijing and Shanghai, and which attract by far the largest share of the Chinese tourists bound for the United States. From there, travelers take buses to see as many nearby sites as they can, often at a breakneck pace. Boston tends to be nothing more than a daylong interlude on the bus tour from New York, with visitors disembarking in Cambridge to see Harvard and MIT before continuing on their journeys.

Those sorts of visits brought in a little less than $300 million last year, according to a report commissioned by the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. But Bruce Bommarito, a longtime tourism consultant fluent in Mandarin who has been helping Boston navigate the Chinese market, says that number could be a lot higher if the city could capture the attention of people who have already been to the United States once, and want to return in order to get to know the country in a deeper way. That’s a “different type of tourist,” Bommarito said—and as the Chinese travel boom continues, it’s one that will become more and more common.
In order to get Chinese people to stay longer in Boston and New England—to stay in the city’s hotels and eat at its restaurants for multiple days and nights, then make short trips to other parts of the region—the first order of business, according to Moscaritolo, is convincing an airline to start running a direct flight from China to Logan Airport. People flying directly in and out would be more likely to spend their money here—especially on the luxury goods they plan to take home. In July, The Wall Street Journal reported that Hainan Airlines had sought approval from Chinese regulators to start a Boston route as early as next year.

‘This new Hainan Airlines route between Beijing and Boston is an incredible opportunity for Boston” said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines LLC Publisher of Luxury Hotels of America, a travel magazine for affluent Chinese travelers, and an expert in marketing US destinations to Chinese travelers. He added “Boston is a sophisticated destination that will appeal to affluent travelers who have already been to New York and Las Vegas. With its historical and cultural background, the city should definitely target independent Chinese travelers, and not the group tours, who might prefer other mainstream destinations”
It’s not just Boston that wants their business, of course: Across the country, a map is emerging of city-specific pitches engineered to the enthusiasms and preferences of the imagined Chinese tourist. In Chicago, emphasis is placed on Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose—massive stars in China, where basketball is popular—as well as the University of Chicago’s record of producing Nobel Prize winners. Seattle uses a popular Chinese romantic comedy that was set there, “Beijing Meets Seattle,” as a marketing hook.
“Houston has worked the market very hard from a Jeremy Lin—Yao Ming angle,” said Bommarito. He added: “Hawaii does very well because of its proximity. Florida is starting to grow, particularly Orlando and Miami, because the Chinese like cruise ships and they like the mouse.”
In Boston, the trick has been figuring out what the city can offer besides a chance to visit the educational mecca of Cambridge—a big draw, but not enough to convince tourists to stay here more than a day or two. This challenge has required those involved in the Boston tourism industry to put themselves in the minds of the people they’re trying to pull in. “What you need to do is look at the reasons why they travel, what they’re looking for when they come to America,” Moscaritolo said.
Some things are obvious. It’s well known, for instance, that Chinese travelers love to shop, because the steep sales tax in China makes luxury goods so much more expensive there. But others are more surprising: American history, it turns out, is of great interest, which makes Boston’s unique role in it a major selling point. “One point I try to market is that Boston is one of the oldest cities in America,” said Zhou, adding that many Chinese people don’t realize that historical events they learned about in school, like the landing of the Mayflower, took place near Boston. Part of Zhou’s pitch, for that reason, is that “Boston is the birthplace of liberty and freedom.”
Then there’s the nature angle, which positions Boston as a place with fresh air and a gateway to New England, where visitors can enjoy the rolling hills and foliage, go whale-watching, eat fresh lobster, and hike through national parks. That Boston offers such easy access to nature appeals to Chinese tourists looking for respite from the atmosphere back home: “If you consider how polluted, how thick, the air in Beijing and Shanghai is, you will understand this,” said Yang Xiao, a reporter for Southern People Weekly, who arrived in Boston on a Nieman Fellowship just a month ago. Since then Xiao has visited Walden Pond, and is planning a trip to Maine; even being here for a little while, he said, “changes the air in your lungs.”
The outdoors is already part of Chinese travel habits: Domestically, tourists spend occasional weekends relaxing in small farm towns, and if they have more vacation time, they go to Tibet, the Yunnan province, or Thailand. “There’s a market in China with people going to different places to enjoy nature,” said Zhou, “but they don’t know yet that Boston and New England [have] that. That’s the message we want to send out.”
In light of China’s growing concerns about pollution, Boston looks practically like a spa destination, a city defined by good health. Adding to this impression are its world-class hospitals—where, according to Zhou, some Chinese visitors have gone for “general body checks” they believed would be far superior to what they could get back home. “Sometimes Chinese people say if you cannot get treated in Boston, you cannot get treated anywhere else, because Boston has the most advanced hospitals in the world,” Zhou said.

As the number of Chinese tourists pouring out into the world continues to grow, he went on, we will start to see their interests and preferences reflected more and more in the places they’re visiting.
The nature of these pitches demonstrates that the appeal of America isn’t always what Americans assume it is. In some ways, we’re an older economy now than China, and visitors from a land of towering apartment buildings and levitating trains will be less surprised by our gleaming skyscrapers than they are charmed by our old-fashioned parks, our bodies of water, and the height restrictions in our neighborhoods.
“Sometimes we get caught up in the notion of bigness in America, whether it’s big buildings or big cities or big airports, and we think that if it’s not huge and big it’s not good,” Moscaritolo said. But when he talks to Chinese visitors about Boston, he said, “every one of them gets animated by the concept of open space, the streetscape, and looking up and being able to see the sky.”

Source: Boston Globe, article by Leon Neyfakh

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