Washington lures China tourists

Updated: 2016-09-28 11:22

By CHINA DAILY in Washington(chinadaily.com.cn)

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Washington is about to get more China friendly.

Washington lures China tourists

Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, gave the opening remarks of the 2016 Global Marketplace conference themed Welcome China Tuesday morning in Washington. With a rapid growth of the Chinese visitors who travel to DC, the Welcome China program aims at preparing DC businesses for Chinese visitors. YUAN YUAN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Representatives from hotels, restaurants, museums, airports and other tourism-related industries across the greater DC area each got a checklist of things they could do to help make their operations more Chinese friendly, as they gathered at this year's Destination DC Global Marketplace conference Welcome China, on Tuesday in Washington.

For the first time, Destination DC has hosted a conference focusing on the Chinese tourist market. The gathering was also part of the Welcome China program initiated by Destination DC recently to help Washington better accommodate Chinese visitors.

With record arrivals of around 300,000 visitors from China last year, Washington has witnessed a 635 percent growth in Chinese visitors over the past 10 years, according to Scott Johnson, president of Travel Marketing Insights.

"One out of every nine Chinese visitors that comes to the United States actually comes to Washington," said Elliott Ferguson, president of Destination DC. "So not only are we trying to grow the number of Chinese coming to Washington but also the number coming to the United States."

Those numbers are still growing substantially.

"Clearly, China is going to outpace all other markets in the next five years," Johnson said, showing a graphic predicting Chinese arrivals increasing 96 percent for the next five years compared to India, ranking the second, with about a 30 percent increase.

"We're always asked what we're doing as a destination not only to make those Chinese visiting us feel more welcomed but to become more of an international destination," Ferguson said. "Sometimes it's as simple as offering hot water with green tea."

Through the program, they want to offer the tourism industry a way to learn about Chinese culture, incorporate Chinese customs into their offerings and effectively communicate with Chinese visitors, Ferguson said.

"This is our first entrance into a certification program, so we're going to do a lot to promote the program out to the customers," said Theresa Belpulsi, vice-president of tourism and visitors services at Destination DC.

To earn Welcome China certification, the business must offer a at least three of a list of 12 requirements, such as having Chinese social media accounts, providing Chinese subtitles on videos and audio tours in Chinese.

Belpulsi said they were working to build content and spread word about the quality of their products, "not just about the museums that are here but all the other cultural experiences that they can have."

The goal is to attract about 500,000 Chinese visitors by 2020, she said.

Mavis Zhang, vice-president of SinoMedia, and Eagle Yi, director of business development of WeChat, made a presentation on how to market to the Chinese tourist.

Zhang analyzed Chinese visitors for age range, preferences and purpose of visit and pointed out a trend to an increase in younger travelers, repeat travelers and free independent travelers.

During the Q&A session, she suggested businesses incorporate Chinese Union Pay, hire Chinese-speaking salespersons and prepare Chinese language materials.

Yi introduced WeChat, one of the most widely used messaging services, to the audiences who were then invited to download the WeChat app, explore its multiple functions and join a group chat.

"WeChat has been a phenomenon," Yi said. "It's kind of a combination of Google, Facebook, Yelp, Instagram and PayPal. It makes the whole process smooth."

With 806 million active users, WeChat on average uses 35 percent of the total time mobile users spend on their devices, Yi said.

Yuan Yuan in Washington contributed to the story