Chinese flock to NYC museums

Updated: 2014-12-09 07:57

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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Like retailers and others institutions across the United States, New York City museums are vying for Chinese tourists, with two of the city's biggest reporting record numbers of visitors from China.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest US museum, for the first time Chinese exceeded visitors from every other foreign country. For the fiscal year 2014, which ended on June 30, the Met estimates that of about 6.2 million total visitors, around 209,000 were Chinese. They represent about 10 percent of the Met's international visitors, which make up 36 percent of the total.

At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the number of Chinese expected to have visited by the end of its current fiscal year in June 2015 will be a record 18,000.

The rapid growth in Chinese tourists at the Met is a "recent phenomenon," according to Elyse Topalian, vice-president of communications, with the number of Chinese quadrupling in the last five years to the 209,000 in 2014 from 50,000 in fiscal year 2009.

"The Met is a place that everyone wants to visit, and I think it's a bucket list item," said Victoria Cairl, tourism marketing manager at the museum. "A lot of the Chinese tourists that come here may come to America once in their life. When they visit New York, they want to go to the art museum. You want to see the Met and you want to see as much of it as you can."

Cairl said Chinese tourists who visit the Met tend to like four areas: the Egyptian wing, the Greek and Roman wing, the European paintings wing, and the Asian art wing.

"Most people say, 'Oh the Asian wing must be very popular,' and it is, it's an important part of their visit, but really, what they love about coming to the Met is that they get to see a little bit of art from around the world," she said. "They aren't really able to see European paintings and Egyptian and Greek and Roman art in China. In China the majority of them only get to see Chinese art, so this is a buffet of art for them."

Next year, the Met will unveil a new exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass, which explores how the country has influenced fashion around the world, and will feature 100 examples of couture and ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art.

Many Chinese tourists travel with groups, often spending only 90 minutes to two hours at the museum, so Cairl said that the Met works with Chinese tour operators to make sure the visits are efficient, including selling tickets in bulk beforehand to avoid waiting on line.

The museum offers maps in Chinese, as well as audio and tour guides in Mandarin. It recently rewrote and republished a museum guidebook and the Chinese version has been purchased almost as much as the English version.

The museum also has a smartphone application that provides updates on current exhibitions - as well as maps and other guides - that is only available in English at the moment, but the Chinese are the second-largest group to use it, Cairl said.

From working with tour operators and going on trade missions, Cairl said that the Met brand is fairly well known by the Chinese.

"I think you can't rest on your laurels. Tourists really love the fact that we cater to Chinese tourists. We have maps in simplified Chinese. We have information on our website in Chinese. We have Mandarin tour guides. We have an audio guide in Mandarin." said Cairl.

MoMA spokeswoman Kim Mitchell said the 18,000 expected tourists from China will be more than double the 8,670 Chinese who visited t hree years ago.

"It's a market that we're very interested in learning more about and finding what their needs are, and providing tools and resources to make their visit as enjoyable as it can possibly be," she said.

Mitchell said Chinese are very interested in impressionists and post-impressionists.

Chinese flock to NYC museums

The Metropolitan Museum of Art saw a boost in the number of Chinese visitors in fiscal year 2014, which now makes up the largest group of international visitors to the museum. Amy He / China Daily