Chinese flock to California

Updated: 2015-02-25 11:46

By Cindy Liu in Los Angeles(China Daily USA)

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Tourism from China to Los Angeles has nearly quadrupled in the past four years, making the country the largest overseas market for the city's tourism.

The number grew from 158,000 Chinese tourists in 2009 to 570,000 in 2013, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp's annual report in 2014.

Another factor that will accelerate travel growth is a visa policy approved by Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November. They agreed to extend tourist visas to 10 years and student visas to five years.

There has been a steady flow of 1 million Chinese tourists to California every year. Observers predict the number will reach 2 million by 2020.

Michael Merner, a specialist in Chinese marketing, said Monday that last November, the US consulates in China recorded a 68 percent increase in visa issuance, indicating a huge wave of Chinese tourism to the US has started.

"China has arrived. China is here," Merner said. He spoke at the 2015 Visit California Outlook Forum attended by some 500 California tourism industry professionals at La Quinta Resort and Club in Palm Springs.

Visit California is expecting a 63 percent increase in Chinese visitors from 2013 to 2016. Some $2.2 billion is forecast to be spent on their trips to California, including shopping, touring and transportation.

"This is the first year after the new visa policy," said Julie Wagner, CEO of the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau. "I can't imagine how many more Chinese tourists are coming to California this year than last year. It will be just huge."

Kathryn Smits, vice-president of International Tourism at the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, told China Daily that the new visa policy will boost California tourism immediately.

It was announced at the forum that airline service between China and California's two major gateways, Los Angeles and San Francisco, has increased 44 percent.

Chinese airlines had added new direct flights from Los Angeles to cities in China or plan to add flights, leveraging their advantages of Chinese-language services to Chinese tourists and travelers.

Air China announced on Feb 19 that it will add another Los Angeles-Beijing direct flight on May 2. The flight will be available on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from May 2 to the end of June, and then will run daily from July 1. By then, Air China will have three daily flights, making it the first Chinese airline in the US to provide three daily Los Angeles-Beijing flights.

Chi Zhihang, vice-president of Air China and general manager of Air China North America, told China Daily that because the visa policy is much more relaxed, the competition among airlines is getting stiffer.

China Eastern Airlines announced in July that it would start a direct flight between Los Angeles and Hefei, capital city of Anhui province in southeast China.

Chinese tourism officials confirmed a direct flight between Los Angeles and Hangzhou in China will start in 2015, without mentioning the carrier's name.

Chinese tourists are the most desired international shoppers in some Southern California cities. Chinese visitors spend an average of $6,000 per person per trip to the US, highest in the world. Luxury brands, designer's bags and shoes entice China's middle class to fly to California for shopping sprees.

More than half of the premier stores in Beverly Hills employ Mandarin Chinese-speaking salespersons to help with Chinese travelers. Most stores in Beverly Hills accept Union Pay for Chinese travelers who don't have a US credit card. Five-star hotels in Beverly Hills provide Chinese-style breakfasts and Chinese slippers year round.

The Beverly Hills Visitor Center provides shopping maps and coupons printed in Chinese. Many world-famous beaches in Los Angeles, including Venice Beach and Santa Monica beach, have Chinese versions of city maps.

A 7,000-member Chinese tour group traveled to California last summer, the largest tour group in recent years. Records show that each member spent $10,000 on average in a one-week stay.

"China's tourist group is considered to have the biggest buying power among all international visitors," Beteta told China Daily in an earlier interview. "We have to make sure this exceptionally important group of guests has their best experience ever in their stay here in California."

Le Yuan, a Southern California real estate agent, reported a double-digit increase in clients in January. Many Chinese clients can fly here to see the houses and neighborhood," Le said. "Travel is just so easy."