China-US / People

Making DC more China friendly

By Dong Leshuo (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-04-23 03:22

Making DC more China friendly

Editor's note: This story is one in a series by China Daily USA that marks the 2016 US-China Tourism Year. President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama declared the year-long program of activities during Xi's state visit to the US in September 2015.

Making DC more China friendly

Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, holds a model of a terracotta warrior in his office in Chinatown in Washington, DC. Destination DC is a private, non-profit corporation with a membership of 850 businesses and organizations that support the District of Columbia travel and tourism sector. DONG LESHUO / CHINA DAILY

With nearly a quarter of a million Chinese tourists visiting the US capital every year, a tourism group looks for ways to make them feel welcome.

For the past two years, China has been the top source of tourists to the US capital.

“The Chinese market has been the largest inbound international market coming to Washington since 2013,” said Elliott L. Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, a private, non-profit corporation with a membership of 850 businesses and organizations that support the District of Columbia’s travel and tourism sector.

China has become Washington’s No 1 overseas market, growing 103 percent since 2010. About 221,000 people visited Washington from China in 2014, according to the Travel market insights and the national travel and tourism office. Visitation from China to the US is forecasted to increase 129 percent between 2014 and 2020 — adding 2.83 million more visitors by 2020, according to the national travel and tourism office.

As the number of Chinese visitors grows, Ferguson would like to see the city “cultivate, welcome and appreciate the Chinese culture”.

“For example, for breakfast, you should have certain things on the menu that are appealing to the Chinese visitors. And you should understand you should have certain opportunities for them to know you’re welcoming them when they come to Washington, DC,” Ferguson said.

Destination DC is putting together a program as it sees more Chinese coming into the city.

“We want to make sure our members know what to expect from the Chinese visitors, and more importantly, what the Chinese visitors expect,” Ferguson said.

“Chinese want to feel there is a presence of their culture here, but they still want to experience American culture. The combination is important,” Ferguson said.

“As we look for opportunities for international growth, the relationship with China is critical. We are in China at least three times a year, sometimes more, cultivating relationships,” Ferguson said.

The mayor and former mayors of Washington visit China at least once a year.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser visited China last November, a trip focused on tourism. The mayor met with some of the largest tourism organizations in China, including Ctrip, a provider of travel services.

“There is an interest in learning from each other,” Ferguson said.

“Sometimes people’s perception is based on what they saw on TV. The opportunity to come here and the excitement that we hear from Chinese visitors is a positive thing for us. I think a lot of Americans, the Washingtonians, have a desire to visit China too for that reason,” Ferguson said.

“When you visited China 30 years ago, everybody talked about their experience with bicycles,” Ferguson said. “Now, everything is so cosmopolitan.”

“Not only that, when you think of China, most of the people think of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, maybe Xi’an for the terracotta warriors. But there are so many other cities, like Chengdu, the hometown of pandas, that the Americans are exploring; that’s because of the exposure and cultural exchanges that we have between those cities,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson has visited eight Chinese cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing, Guangzhou, Jinan, Xi’an, Guilin and Qingdao.

“The more we learn about each other’s culture, the more we can embrace each other. It’s important that Chinese citizens have more access to Western culture, which helps to change the perception,” Ferguson said.

He and his organization have been actively participating in the US-China Tourism Leadership Summit for more than five years.

The summit is an annual event that brings leaders of the Chinese and US tourism industries together for business sessions and networking opportunities. Summit locations alternate between China and the US each year.

Most of the partners that Destination DC works with in China are travel agencies.

“We continue to build relationships with those travel agencies. We do training with them as well. Those relationships have been very good. The collaborations keep growing if the travel agencies see there is an opportunity for them,” Ferguson said.

Tourism (domestic and international) created $725 million in tax revenue for DC in 2014. Without it, each DC household would have to contribute an additional $2,500 to maintain the city’s tax revenue. Tourism is one of the largest economic engines for the district, supporting nearly 75,000 jobs in 2014, according to IHS Global.

“From a larger lens, clearly the relationship between China and the US has been better than it has ever been. There has always been something we can work on. That’s where hospitality can fit in,” Ferguson said.

“When you look at what our governments are doing in terms of trade, it’s helpful to understand and build relationships that allow us to work together, and tourism clearly is a link to that. The experiences and history that people capture when they travel to different destinations change the way people perceive the destination,” Ferguson said.

“Travel is a portal to build stronger understanding and relationships between people,” he said.

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