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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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Orange County buffs image for tourists

Luxury Hotels of America Summer 2013 CoverAlthough some found it hard to distinguish between a traditional lion dance and Shaolin kung fu, representatives of California’s tourism hotbed of Orange County gathered for the common purpose of tackling China’s lucrative travel market.
Many Chinese might be equally unfamiliar with Southern California’s geography, it was noted at the fifth annual countywide tourism conference in Anaheim on Wednesday.
“Chinese people always think Disneyland and South Coast Plaza are in Los Angeles,” said Cherrie Yang, travel trade marketing manager in the Shanghai office of the Orange County Visitors Association.
The office, which opened in January, is the product of the China Tourism Initiative, which involves tourism officials in the cities of Orange County as well as representatives of tourist draws like the upscale South Coast Plaza – California’s biggest shopping mall.
“China is the single best opportunity for us,” said Gary Sherwin, chairman of the Orange County Visitors Association.
Pointing out that popular attractions such as Universal Studios and San Diego’s Sea World are, respectively, an hour north and two hours’ south of Los Angeles International Airport, Orange County represents a nice midpoint for travelers to Southern California, said Ann Gallaugher, vice-president of tourism development for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Its fledgling effort to target Chinese tourists will enable the county to tap state and federal resources in tourism promotion.
In 2007, the United States received approved destination status from China upon completion of a bilateral tourism agreement. Three years later, President Barack Obama signed the Travel Promotion Act, establishing Brand USA, a public-private partnership to promote international tourism to the US.
Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of the statewide promotion agency Visit California and chairwoman of Brand USA, said 42 million people from outside the US visited California last year. The goal is to welcome 100 million international visitors annually by 2021.
“California is a very popular destination for the very affluent Chinese travelers. They want not only to stay in five star hotels, but also have an appointment with their realtor and visit properties for investment”, said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines and publisher of the magazine Luxury Hotels of America, a publication in Chinese language for affluent Chinese travelers planning their leisure trip to the United States.  Gervois added “We feature a growing part of our content about California, and our readers ask for more”.
The travel industry is an engine of US economic growth. It employs 7.7 million people nationwide and 917,000 in California.
This year, Beteta said, the number of foreign tourists is expected to increase by 2.2 percent from 2012 while their spending rises 5.1 percent.
For the US, growth in tourism from China is up nearly 900 percent over the past decade. The country is sixth on the list of countries from which US-bound tourists arrive.
“But China will quickly move up with its exponential growth,” said Beteta, who recently accompanied Governor Jerry Brown on a trip to China to promote California businesses.
“The Chinese media no longer asked visa questions anymore,” she said, indicating that US efforts to increase access to foreign tourists are paying off.
During Brown’s trip, Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan was chosen be California’s travel ambassador to her home country. Gao has 20 million followers on her Sina Weibo microblogging account. Officials hope she can help the state reach its goal of attracting 1.1 million Chinese visitors by 2015.

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