Chicago lures Chinese tourists

Updated: 2014-01-09 07:10

By Xu Lin (China Daily)

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Famous for skyscrapers, the Ferris wheel and jazz, Chicago has numerous attractions to draw tourists from all over the world to soak in its beauty and glamor.

To increase the number of Chinese visitors, Choose Chicago, the city's official destination marketing organization, plans to open an office in Chengdu, Sichuan province, its fourth in China.

Choose Chicago's offices in the Chinese metropolises Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou cover the important developed regions of China and offer convenient services to Chinese tourists. The Chengdu office is aimed at attracting the potential market in southwestern China.

"Chicago has been strengthening cooperation with China in trade, investment, culture and tourism. It's not only a key gateway city for Chinese visitors to the United States, but also boasts the largest number of Chinese students in Illinois," says Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, who visited Beijing recently to promote the city as an investment partner and a destination. It's his first visit to China since he took office in 2011.

"We're seeing a higher percentage of Chinese visitors to Chicago than many of the cities in the US. This is a direct result of the amount of work we're putting in this market," says Don Welsh, president and CEO of Choose Chicago, who visited China with the mayor.

Since Sept 2011, Welsh and his colleagues have raised awareness of the destination overseas by opening eight international offices, including its Guangzhou representative in November 2013. It's the first city tourism bureau in the US to have an office in Guangzhou, a neighboring city of Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

In 2004, 34,000 Chinese visited Chicago and the number soared to 120,000 in 2012, ranking China as the third country in terms of the number of overseas tourists to Chicago. In 2012, Chinese tourists spent an average of $3,764 per person in Chicago, which equals to a yearly revenue of more than $450 million.

According to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, the US Department of Commerce, Chinese tourists to the US are expected to increase 3.2 million people, or 219 percent, from 2012 to 2018, making China the country with the second-largest number of visitors to the US behind Canada.

Welsh says that besides an easier visa application policy and seven direct flights from Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai to Chicago every day, Chinese students in Chicago also help bring many tourists, such as their parents and friends.

The tourism bureau has been working closely with China's tour agencies to promote the three - or four - nights stay itinerary. One can enjoy the 108-story Willis Tower skyscraper, Apollo 8 spacecraft in the Museum of Science and Industry and Chicago University where US president Barack Obama once taught.

"It's interesting that the Chinatown in Chicago gets bigger and bigger as more Chinese are moving here and more business are coming, too," Welsh says.

Chinese visitors love Chicago because it's a beautiful, clean and a walkable city.

In August 2013, Fashion Outlets Chicago, home to 130 stores with both high-street and luxury brands, opened. As the first fully-enclosed outlet mall built in Chicago in more than 20 years, it is only five minutes' drive to the city's O'Hare International Airport and 25 kilometers from downtown Chicago.

"It's very convenient. We find Chinese visitors love either beginning or ending their trips with shopping," Welsh says.

(China Daily 01/09/2014 page19)