Minnesota, Mall of America want Chinese tourists

Updated: 2014-06-03 06:25

By AMY HE in New York (China Daily USA)

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Minnesota, Mall of America want Chinese tourists

Mall of America is expanding its efforts to attract the Chinese tourist, who spend an average of $7,000 per stay, according to the US Commerce Department, more than tourists of any other nationality. [Provided to China Daily by Explore Minnesota Tourism Minnesota]

Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York are among favorite spots for Chinese tourists coming to the United States. Now Minnesota and the Mall of America — the largest mall in the country — want to get on that list.

"We see the growth in the number of Chinese travelers to the United States. Our goal is to try to make Minnesota in their mindset, maybe not as a primary, but as a secondary destination," John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism, Minnesota's tourism board, told China Daily.

Trying to attract Chinese tourists to the state and the mall in Bloomington began about five years ago. But now the state is in the process of signing a contract with a Chinese firm to represent Minnesota to Chinese tour operators and promote Minnesota to local media, which includes bringing writers over on "familiarization tours" to write about the state for audiences in their foreign countries.

Mall of America representatives also are going on tour missions in Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, said Doug Killian, director of tourism at Mall of America.

The state tripled its international marketing budget and though it has focused on countries like Canada, Germany, and the UK, it is now looking to reach travelers not only from China, but also Mexico and France.

"The way that you market is a little bit different today. It's not just massive consumer advertising. It's reaching consumers, getting them talking to each other, and social media is clearly an avenue in China where we want to be more active," Edman said. "I think a lot of people in the United States think of marketing maybe 20 years ago when it was all about getting products on the shelf, getting them into packages. But people right now are learning not just through advertising about a destination, but they're learning from each other."

Engaging Chinese tourists over social media and getting them to talk to each other is "probably more effective" for the tourism board than buying expensive ads to get impressions and awareness, he added.

And what are the big draws being used to attract Chinese tourists?

There is no sales tax on clothing or shoes and that's especially beneficial to Mall of America, since it's one of the biggest shopping destinations, said Rosemary McCormick, president of the Shop American Alliance. Shop America represents hundreds of shopping destinations and works closely with Explore Minnesota and Mall of America with Chinese tourists.

"The Chinese have a real, real problem with paying tax on clothing, or anything really. This is a great thing about Mall of America and all of Minnesota is going to benefit from that."

And then McCormick says is the size of the mall's size and its depth and breadth of selection.

According to a mall fact sheet: there are 520 stores; 86 hours is the length of time it would take to complete your visit to the Mall if you were to spend just 10 minutes in each store; 4.3 miles of total store front footage; 57 miles is the walking distance around one level of the mall. And 40 million visitors annually, more than the combined populations of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Canada.

The mall is also building a five-star JW Marriott hotel, set to open in fall of 2015, on one side of the mall opposite from the Radisson Blu hotel, which is already physically attached to the mall for shoppers' convenience, Killian said. Radisson Blu works with the mall to cater specifically to Chinese guests' needs, such as adding Chinese food to the breakfast menu as well as having tea available in guests' rooms.

"The Chinese really love shopping and Mall of America is a really valuable asset. We really feel like we've got a lot of valuable assets for the Chinese traveler: excellent shopping and convenience," Killian said. "We know the Chinese tourists that travel are in a higher-income group and they like the nice things in life. And honestly, we're in the Midwest, we're a little less expensive overall than the East and West coasts, which is a bit of an advantage for us too."

There are no direct flights between China and Minnesota, but Killian and Edman don't see that as detraction for Chinese tourism.

"It's not a matter of if but when,'' Killian said about the possibility of a direct flight between Minnesota and China. ``With companies here like General Mills, Target, Best Buy, Medtronic, it's a big business and leisure market between here and China. So it's just a matter of time, we think, and we're pretty confident that it's going to happen."

Edman said that even without a direct flight, most Chinese can get to Minnesota with one stop, either from Tokyo, Los Angeles, or Detroit.

"We want to make Minnesota a preferred destination for travelers in China, and as we do that, that will hopefully, bring about additional airline travel," he said.

The biggest challenge for Minnesota and Mall of America is to make sure that the Chinese are aware of the two locations, Edman and Killian said, and since the tourism board and the mall began their China initiatives, they have seen an increase in Chinese tourists.

"Our biggest challenge right now is to just establish awareness and preference for Mall of America, because once Chinese travelers know of and visit Mall of America and Minnesota, they frankly love it," Killian said.

But what about Minnesota's tough winters?

"Yes, it's true, our winters are cold, but Mall of America is completely weatherproof,'' Killian said. "We're all inside and we're connected to the airport via light rail door-to-door. We're connected to downtown Minneapolis.''

And the temperature in the mall is 70 degrees whether its spring, summer, winter or fall.