Boom Times for Chinese Tourism in Los Angeles Suburb

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About 12 miles east of Los Angeles, the suburb of San Gabriel is becoming a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

Although San Gabriel, a city of 40,000, has “no beaches, no major landmarks and few A-list shops and restaurants” to speak of, its perks for Chinese visitors and residents alike are many. According to the Seattle Times, the suburb boasts a “thriving” array of Chinese restaurants, multilingual travel agencies, Asian banks, and Chinese-style hotels. And the list continues to grow. A 316-room Crowne Plaza Hotel is expected to open next to the town’s Hilton in 2015.

One of the town’s more prominent points of interest is 219,000-square-foot San Gabriel Square, which hosts so many luxury retailers that it is now informally known as the Great Mall of China.

“San Gabriel is famous in China. It has become a brand name destination,” said chief executive of Hing Wa Lee Group David Lee. Lee’s business recently opened a jewelry store in San Gabriel to cater to the city’s Chinese tourists, who form about 70 percent of the clientele.

Julie Tang, general manager of the San Gabriel travel agency Park Place International, echoed Lee’s comments, saying that San Gabriel’s “name recognition has become luxury.”

About a third of Chinese travelers in the United States visit Los Angeles, and, according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, Chinese tourists spend approximately $3,000 on each California trip, more than any other country.

What’s more, emigration to the United States is becoming a popular option for affluent Chinese with concerns about the future of their nation’s economy and environment. In fact, more than 60 percent of millionaires in China are considering emigration, according to the Hurun Report, a publication that documents wealth in the country.

Chinese travelers spend US$102 billion on international travel in 2012

China has overtaken Germany and the USA as the world’s biggest spenders on travel, with Chinese travelers spending US$102 billion on international travel in 2012, an increase of over 40% on 2011.
The second annual Chinese International Travel Monitor released today reveals significant insights into the changing behaviours of Chinese travelers and how the global hotel industry is adapting.
Surveying more than 3,000 Chinese international travelers and more than 1,500 hoteliers around the world, the report found 75 percent of hoteliers globally say Chinese travelers now account for up to five percent of their business and 45 percent say they have experienced an increase in Chinese guests over last year, with the greatest increases coming in APAC (61 percent). Hoteliers see China as a positive growth market over the next three years with one in 10 expecting to see an increase of more than 50 percent and almost half (47 percent) anticipating an 11-50 percent rise.
According to the report the majority of overseas Chinese travel (96 percent) has been for leisure purposes, while just over half (52 percent) have also visited other countries for business or education.

Top 10 destinations interested in traveling to in next 12 months %
Australia 39%
France 33%
New Zealand 27%
USA 26%
Switzerland 25%
Singapore  23%
Hong Kong 21%
Taiwan 20%
UK 19%
Canada 19%

In a growing trend, nearly two thirds (62 percent) of Chinese travelers say they prefer to travel independently and not as part of a group. This development has been confirmed by the hoteliers surveyed, who say 70 percent of Chinese guests now travel independently, compared with a much more even split in 2012.
Other changes in behaviour noted by Singapore hoteliers included Chinese travelers spending more money, increasingly speaking more English and over all being less sensitive to price.

Johan Svanstrom, Managing Director of Hotels.com Asia Pacific, said, “The 2013 Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM) shows the move to independent travel identified in the CITM last year is now preferred by the majority of Chinese travelers. While in-roads have been made in this area, governments will have to take this into account when organising their visa application infrastructure and processes.”
In addition, the CITM highlights areas for continued improvement for accommodation providers. The ability to accept Chinese payment methods is seen as the single most important offering from hotels and over a quarter (26 percent) of Chinese travelers feel this is a key area for improvement.
Three quarters (75 percent) of Chinese travelers say hoteliers need to improve the provision of translated items, such as welcome literature, websites, TV programs and newspapers, while almost half (42 percent) say that they would like more Mandarin speaking staff in hotels.

Highlighting a disconnect between the desires of Chinese travelers and provisions made by hoteliers, a quarter (25 percent) of hoteliers say they offer cultural awareness training to staff but only one in ten (11 percent) offer welcome materials in Mandarin. Additionally, globally, just over half (56 percent) of hotels have invested less than $10,000 in developing programmes and products specifically catering to Chinese guests over the past 12 months.
When it comes to researching and booking travel, personal recommendation plays an increasingly vital role, with almost a third (30 percent) of Chinese travelers saying they rely on advice from family and friends, followed by online travel booking and review sites.

Pierre Gervois, CEO & Publisher of China Elite Focus, said “Hoteliers realize now that it’s very important to advertise in specialized travel magazines, segmented by country (for example Luxury Hotels of America), or by activity (for example VIP Golf USA)”.
“The new generation of Chinese travelers trust these specialized travel magazines in Chinese language much more that a recommendation made by a travel agent or a generalist travel website. Even if Chinese guests will do the booking through booking engines, such as CTRIP, they will make their choice of hotel by reading specialized magazines and social media networks, and then, go to a booking engine.”, Mr Gervois added.

More than a quarter of Chinese travelers (27 percent) use social media to help them make decisions on holiday destinations, with this figure rising to 33 per cent among younger travelers under 35.
These insights highlight the need for hoteliers to adapt their marketing strategies, with a particular focus on online and social media channels, to attract Chinese travelers. While the CITM shows hoteliers are making positive steps towards catering to an increasingly mobile and savvy Chinese travel market, it also shows the need for the global hotel industry to adapt facilities and services to more extensively cater to the world’s largest market of travelers.
In addition, programmes being implemented by many governments and tourism authorities to attract and facilitate for Chinese travelers are a positive step in the right direction, but the pace of growth in the volume of Chinese travelers appears to be outstripping the pace of change in the hotel industry.

SUMMER TOURISM IS CRUCIAL FOR LUXURY BRANDS

BY SAGE BRENNAN, CHINA LUXURY ADVISORS

This post by Sage Brennan originally appeared here in Jing Daily

It’s not surprising that global luxury brand managers have started paying closer attention to the spendy Chinese travelers hitting their retail doors in Europe and America.

After all, China’s tourists outspent the perennial global leaders from Germany in 2012, dropping a total of US$102 billion on overseas trips compared to just US$84 billion by their German counterparts. Couple this with the fact that Chinese are now the #1 purchasers of luxury goods worldwide, with more than 60 percent of this spending occurring outside of China.

Amid the noise in industry publications about Chinese New Year and October’s Golden Week, however, some China-watchers may have overlooked the two most important trends of the recent boom in Chinese tourism: summer is the strongest season for Chinese tourist arrivals in key U.S. gateway cities, while spring is the slowest.

Consider the data. If you look at Chinese arrivals to the United States, which reached 1.4 million in 2012, the top month for arrivals from China is August, followed by December and July. In fact, the summer quarter (June, July, and August) was the top season for Chinese tourist arrivals to the U.S. in both 2012 and 2011, with 33 percent and 34 percent of all Chinese tourist arrivals respectively.

For further proof, we analyzed overall conversation activity related to international travel on Sina Corp’s Weibo.com, the dominant Chinese social media platform. The two peak months of posting volume for 2012 were July and August, followed closely by September and November.


This adds critical context to the recent rush of breathless news stories about a slowdown in spending by Chinese tourists during March, which is what we would expect from normal seasonal patterns. A look at the underlying annual trends indicates that a slow spring is nothing to worry about, even if this spring has been a bit slower than normal.

The spring quarter is always the slowest season for Chinese tourism. Every year. And the good news is that we are rapidly approaching the busiest travel period for Chinese tourists.

When formulating Chinese tourist engagement strategies and allocating budgets, the first elements most marketers consider are typically Chinese New Year activities and promotions. Retailers around the world have fallen over each other to produce limited-edition products related to the Chinese zodiac, Chinese decorations and window displays, Chinese cultural activities and special promotions, campaigns, and parties to celebrate the New Year.

While much of this effort is sensibly aimed to bolster brand awareness and goodwill, and strengthen connections with Chinese customers, brand managers would be better off driving revenue during the key summer season.

The best returns on investment will come from activities that focus on summer travel to Europe and North America.

We will be watching closely to see if summer tourism arrivals from China revert to their late-2012 trend, after the bigger-than-usual downturn related to the Chinese leadership handover in March and the ongoing crackdown on luxury spending by Chinese government officials.

What does all this mean for retailers, tourist attractions, and hospitality providers?

  • When determining your Chinese tourist strategy, do not simply consider Chinese New Year and October Holiday. Chinese tourists are traveling all year, and especially during the summer and Western winter holiday periods.
  • Chinese tourists typically plan three months in advance. Act now to make sure you don’t miss the upcoming July and August peak season.
  • Chinese tourists are not a monolithic demographic. They’re tour groups, individuals, young, old, travel pros, travel newbies, affluent, middle class. Do not assume they are all the same. Take time to understand your existing customer base and your relative strengths with each of these customer segments.

Remember: summer––not Chinese New Year or October Golden Week––is the busiest travel period for Chinese tourists and a must-win opportunity for retailers and hospitality providers in global gateway cities.