Reporter Journal / Chang Jun

Chinese vacationers chill American style with custom itineraries

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-12-29 11:40

What if you flew all the way from China and now were in Napa Valley, California, or Mount Sierra, Nevada?

For those middle-class Chinese who usually are affluent, well-educated and strongly attached to the Western lifestyle, the answer might be as simple as "live to the local customs".

My recent expedition to Lake Tahoe, a winter resort known for its numerous ski facilities that straddles California and Nevada, was a series of encounters with my Chinese compatriots.

From hotel check-ins and dining out to skiing adventures, I was thrilled to realize that so many Chinese are traveling to the United States. And more importantly, they are doing it like locals.

"Joining a guided tour group to visit the US is no longer my interest," said Dan Xu from Beijing.

A project manager in her 30s at a high-tech company, Xu said she wanted something unique and personalized from her one-month American vacation between the coasts.

"I did my research and added several themed trips to my itinerary. For example, my trip will include a pilgrimage to the birthplace of writer Mark Twain in Missouri," said Xu, an ardent reader of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. "Otherwise, I won't consider my US travel complete without paying a visit to my beloved author."

Helen Xie, owner of a travel agency in San Francisco, echoed Xu by citing many of her tailored services upon the request of her Chinese clients.

"Our one-week immersion program in Napa Valley is very popular," said Xie, adding that it is designed for an entire family to stay on a farm. "They will have many hands-on opportunities to learn from local workers on harvesting, crushing and sprinkling grapes, as well as fishing and cooking barbecue."

Nationwide, about 2 million Chinese visited the US last year. The Golden State remains one of the top destinations for Chinese travelers, given its many natural splendors and historic abundance. Chinese visitors are estimated to have spent $2.5 billion in California last year, which has bolstered a wide spectrum of local industries such as hotels, retail stores, restaurants and real estate.

Andy Huang, a businessman who runs a boutique PR agency in Shanghai, is hopeful that his customized US tour could help him relax and recharge after arduous commercial campaigns over the years.

"I especially want to know how my American counterparts balance their career and life," said Huang. "I also want to refresh my knowledge about American culture and the essence of American value."

To achieve that state of mind, Huang paid a hefty fee for a three-day trip to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. There, Huang got to sit in the classroom with the officers in training, eat at the cadets' dining hall, and learn, for the first time in his life, how to shoot.

"It cost me $7,000, which I believe is worthwhile," said Huang. "I saw with my own eyes the leadership development and character establishment. Awesome!"

Huang recommended the West Point program to his team members, and "several also followed suit," he said.

Xie attributes the flourishing of customized tourism by Chinese clients to the rise of individualism and the trend of novelty-seeking in the world's second-largest economy.

"Nobody wants to look like anyone else, including the places he/she went and the perfumes he/she sprayed," Xie said. "To be different is fashionable."

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