American tourism industry looks to new breed of tourist

Updated: 2013-02-08 14:26

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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American tourism industry looks to new breed of tourist
Disneyland stages a welcoming party for Chinese tourists organized by the California Travel and Tourism Commission. The US tourism industry is luring Chinese travelers to boost business. Provided to China Daily

Just mentioning China at last month's New York Times travel show sparked a flurry of activity in which names and phone numbers were traded like baseball cards.

The "new Chinese tourist" appears to be causing a stir in the US travel industry.

With trend forecasters such as the Boston Consulting Group declaring that China will become the world's second-largest travel and tourism market by the end of 2013 and with the US at the top of China's "long-haul" travel destinations list, it's no wonder more and more US hoteliers and tourism boards are expressing their "Huanying" ("Welcome").

"I always try to set up meetings at [the International] Pow Wow every year with all the different Chinese companies that come through," said Millie Nye, Sales Manager for the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, referring to the US Travel Association's premier annual marketplace. Although Long Island is a secondary market for Chinese tourists, "more sophisticated travelers" visit the region, she said.

Today's average Chinese tourist is younger, more educated, more international and more affluent, according to a joint 2012 study by China Travel Trends, Dragon Trail, China Outbound Travel Researchi Institute and the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

According to the Chinese International Travel Monitor 2012 report, 59 percent of Chinese tourists traveling to the US in the past year were designated independent travelers.

"The new Chinese tourist doesn't want to go on group tours," said Evan Saunders, CEO and co-founder of the Boston-based Attract China online marketing-consultant company.

"They've been to America before, enjoyed it and want to come back, but this time they want the freedom to experience and do more," Saunders said. "They want to go down to Cape Cod or go skiing in Vermont or go out to western Massachusetts and take photos of the leaves changing in the fall."

To attract interest at the international travel convention, Nye said she emphasizes Long Island's rich history and the area's current attractions, including a vibrant farm-to-table movement among restaurants, farms and vineyards.

Nye and the Long Island tourism agency may have the bait to attract Chinese visitors, but the organization doesn't yet have a brochure in Chinese to meet the demand for one, she said.

In addition to brochures, developing a Chinese brand presence online is also essential, Saunders said.

Entering this burgeoning market sooner will help hotels and tourism boards face lower costs in the long run, as well as less competition.

According to the China Travel Trends study, more than 80 percent of Chinese travelers educate themselves about destinations and brands online. Citing this trend, Saunders argues that for hotels, building a strong online presence will win greater long-term loyalty over competition.

"It is really important for a hotel in the US to impress upon tourists searching online a thousand miles away that it is reputable and the best option," Saunders said.

For example, Saunders worked with the Charles Hotel in Boston to help it establish a presence on Baidu - the Chinese version of Google. Since Google is often blocked in China, establishing a presence on Baidu is essential for ensuring more search hits.

"When you type 'Boshidun' ('Boston') and 'jiudian' ('hotel') into Baidu, the Charles Hotel is one of the first results to pop up," Saunders said. "We are increasing the hotel's visibility by making it a top search result on Baidu, where there are very few other hotels listed, thereby eliminating most of the competition."

Apart from building an online presence, the other key to attracting this market is creating a Chinese language site attuned to the nuances of Chinese culture.

"You must communicate the brand in terms of the Chinese's specific interests," Saunders said.

For the Charles Hotel, the site focuses on its proximity to Harvard University, as well as its closeness to the center of Boston where there is both great shopping and a wide array of good restaurants.

The hotel has also created a Chinese tagline to promote itself.

"There is no direct translation for the tagline, but it basically says the hotel is 'The smart place to stay'," Saunders said. "To a Chinese person reading it, it says you get the most bang for your buck."

According to Attract China's research, the typical Chinese tourist spends the least amount of time in his or her hotel room and instead cares more about exploring and experiencing the area, whether it is Boston or Yellowstone Park.

"I feel totally comfortable staying in a cheap motel such as Super 8 and Day's Inn," said Cheng Luo, a Chinese student studying at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. "A clean room and good Internet connection are all I really need - I don't plan to spend much time in a hotel room, anyway."

Nevertheless, more high-end hotels, including Hilton, Marriott, InterContinental, and Starwood hotel chains, are taking notice and establishing sophisticated programs to better accommodate Chinese guests. Many hotels have also begun offering special Chinese New Year travel packages.

"The response has been positive and our Chinese guests appreciate the familiar comforts of home throughout their stays," said Rob Palleschi, Global Head of Hilton Hotels & Resorts, about the Hilton Huanying program launched in 2011. "In fact, Chinese officials chose Hilton Istanbul during an overseas trip to Turkey in 2012 due to the Hilton Huanying offerings."

Elements of the Huanying program include a front desk team member fluent in Chinese; tea kettles, slippers, Chinese TV programming and a Chinese welcome letter in the room; and traditional Chinese breakfast items on hotel menus, including congee, dim sum, Chinese tea and fried rice or noodles.

Palleschi said the Hilton chain has seen clear growth in the number of outbound travelers from China. Globally, bookings from China in the first seven months of 2012 increased 129 percent at Hilton Huanying participating hotels, including 70 properties in 23 countries, over the same period in 2011.

As the Hilton has witnessed, the Chinese are coming, and at a rate of around 70,000 first-time outbound travelers per day, according to the China Travel Trends study.

Naturally, they all need places to stay and spaces to play.

"The new Chinese tourist just wants to see more and have fun doing it," Saunders said. "This is a fun target market to work with."