DESPITE the increase in Chinese spending power and their rapidly growing interest for travel, the United States is reportedly not doing enough to milk the influx of tourists from China.
Elliott Ferguson, CEO of Destination DC, the city’s convention and tourism organization, told Skift, “Americans traditionally lag behind what other international designations do for different cultures.”
“We just kind of assume one size fits all. Quite frankly, that’s just not welcoming.” – Ferguson
Ferguson’s company last year launched “Welcome China”, a certification program for local businesses to tick requirements and needs specific to Chinese tourists.
Through the program, tourist attractions are required to provide Chinese language maps, facilities to accept China Union Pay, audio tours in Mandarin, appropriate signage, Chinese subtitles in tourism videos, and Chinese social media accounts such as Weibo.
Hotels are expected to tick off details such as providing bedroom slippers, Chinese breakfast options, Chinese-language newspapers, availability of Chinese tea, CNY exchange service and Chinese language channels in hotel rooms.
While this is a great initiative to draw in visitors, not enough attractions, stores, hotels, and restaurants introduce Chinese-specific amenities and services. The “Welcome China” program – based in Washington DC – acts an education tool to bring to light the importance of China-specific marketing.
Last month, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported almost 40 percent of Chinese participants were unable to join a recent travel incentive group in Hawaii because their visas were rejected.
Hawaii Tourism China managing director Reene Ho-Phang told the publication while typically 10 to 15 percent of visa applicants for group travel to Hawaii get denied, the rejection rate for this particular incentive event was significantly higher.
“We’ve observed group demand has cascaded a bit. Word has spread in the industry and it’s impacting other groups. Some are postponing group bookings by a year,” she said.
On top of that, the recent Trump travel ban on select Muslim countries hasn’t helped with the sentiment surrounding the US.
Amid the ban, international visitors to the US began 2017 with the strongest January on record for tourism spending.
Skift reported international visitors spent a record US$20.8 billion, an increase of 0.6 percent from January 2016. This means the average visitor spent US$672 per day on transportation, souvenirs, food, and other tourist-related activities.
Plus, Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company based in Wayne, Pa, told The New York Times more money is spent in the US by international travelers than anywhere else in the world.
Following the announcement of the ban at the end of January, sentiment surrounding travel to the US hasn’t been rosy.
Travel industry research company Atmosphere Research Group founder Henry Harteveldt said in the same The New York Times report, “If certain groups are targeted, if hate speech is tolerated against certain ethnicities, inbound travel will dry up.
“There are people in Mexico, Latin America, the Middle East who view Trump with suspicion and concern,” he said.
“I think he is going to have to show he can be magnanimous and can have a broader vision, which will be very important for international trade and inbound tourism.”
Of course, China’s strained relationship with the US is also a cause for concern. While it’s unclear whether Chinese tourists would steer clear of the US given Trump’s (very public) anti-China sentiments, a dip in inbound numbers could cause a spike in Chinese tourists elsewhere, potentially Europe.
If the Chinese market is projected to surpass the UK and Japan as the single largest demographic in the US, millions of dollars in revenue could slip through the Americans’ fingers if they don’t step up.