18 April 2019
California hired Gao Yuanyuan to promote the state on Weibo in China. Photo: FT
California hired Gao Yuanyuan to promote the state on Weibo in China. Photo: FT

US goes all out to woo Chinese tourists

Chinese tourists are the world’s most numerous, and the US travel industry is rolling out the red carpet for them, the Financial Times reported.

About 114 million mainland Chinese are expected to travel abroad this year, figures from the China National Tourism Administration show, and their numbers are expected to grow as the country’s middle class expands.

Those who travel to the United States spend an average of US$7,200 per visit, far more than the US$4,500 the average foreign tourist spends, US Travel Association figures show.

But so far, the US has managed to attract less than 2 percent of Chinese tourists.

The US tourism industry is trying to change that by finding ways to make Chinese visitors feel welcome. 

Hotel chains Marriott and Hilton are promoting their brands in China via trade shows and booking agencies such as Ctrip and have revamped their websites and call centers to make booking and payment easier for speakers of Cantonese or Mandarin.

“In every meeting, we think China,” Apoorva Gandhi, vice-president of multicultural affairs at Marriott International, told the newspaper. “We see a huge opportunity to market to and delight those business and leisure guests.”

Last year, California – Chinese tourists’ favorite US destination – hired well-known actress and model Gao Yuanyuan to help promote the Visit California site on Sina Weibo, a mainland social media platform. The promotion included a quiz that promised winners a “VIP Grand Prize” trip to California.

China is now the fifth-largest source of long-haul tourist arrivals in the US and is on track to become the largest by the end of the decade.

An agreement between the two countries last month to extend the validity of tourist visas from one year to 10 years will only turbocharge that growth.

But getting Chinese visitors to the US is just the first step.

Making them feel welcome and ensuring they enjoy themselves is the next.

Elliott Ferguson, head of Destination DC – which promotes tourism in the US capital — says he’s hiring more tour guides fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese and has Chinese nationals on staff to help build relationships with Chinese tour operators and better welcome host visitors.

Hilton Hotels offers a service at 27 of its US hotels that caters to Chinese travellers. Known as Hilton Huanying – the Mandarin word for “welcome” – it includes providing Chinese teas and slippers, Chinese television programming and traditional Chinese breakfasts featuring fried dough fritters, dim sum, congee and fried noodles.

“According to Hilton guest satisfaction surveys, Chinese travellers who stay at our Hilton Huanying properties respond with higher scores in terms of overall experience, overall service, property loyalty and overall accommodations,” Jon Scofield, a senior director at Hilton Worldwide, told the FT.

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