Chinese Tourists Expected To Boost Global Travel Industry

Travel Professionals Estimate Upwards Of 50 Million Chinese To Travel Abroad In 2009

Younger Chinese tourists are coming to cities like New York in greater numbers, many of whom come solely for shopping sprees

Younger Chinese tourists are coming to cities like New York in greater numbers, many of them looking to shop

The vast potential of the Chinese tourism industry is not a new subject. Over the past several years, as the number of Mainland tourists heading abroad has increased, and procuring visas has become incrementally easier, hotels, airlines, travel operators and restaurants have worked to accomodate the expectations and needs of this rapidly-growing customer segment. Much like in the 1980s, when the exploding number of Japanese and Korean tourists gave many hotels in North America and Europe the impetus to include tea and slippers in their rooms, the growing wave of Mainland Chinese tourists will undoubtedly reshape the industry in noticeable ways.

The New York Times discussed the potential windfall these tourists could bring to the New York economy last spring, writing that Chinese tourists — most of whom have never left their country before — tend to spend freely and are relatively easy to please, since the majority still come to America on all-inclusive tour packages.

City officials, hospitality merchants and culture executives see [Chinese tourists] quite simply as the golden future: a rare growth sector in a cooling economy.

Last year Chinese travelers spent $2,204 per visit in New York City, in contrast to $1,807 for some 283,000 visitors from Japan, according to NYC & Company, the city’s tourism and marketing bureau. Though the number of visitors from Japan dwarfs the 160,000 visitors from China, a new agreement between China and the United States has, as of last Tuesday, permitted travel agencies for the first time to offer packaged tours to New York and other American cities, tourism officials say. Since previously only business and government travelers were approved, the accord is likely to significantly increase the flow of visitors.

The potential of this large market is not confined to New York. Other major American cities feel that encouraging more Chinese tourism could unlock a vast stream of revenue that could boost the American tourism industry as Europeans and Japanese tourists return less frequently and less willing to drop as much cash. Chinese tourists, who are no longer comprised entirely of large groups of middle-aged businesspeople but are becoming younger and more active, should pick up some of the dropoff from these formerly dominant tourism markets, and as the US tourism industry continues to suffer from the economic downturn, encouraging more Chinese tourism should ultimately pay off. As ChinaContact managing director Roy Graff notes,

China began to allow its citizens to travel abroad for leisure in the early 90’s through a policy known as ADS (Approved Destination Status). Individual travel is not regulated to the same degree but is still mostly limited to domestic and short haul travel…There is no question that a new generation of Chinese travellers have embraced the Internet for their travel research and booking needs.

Nearly 50 million Chinese will travel abroad in 2009. Their patterns and itineraries now resemble that of other markets rather than the staid and hectic multi-destination itinerary of a few years ago. The wealthy are no longer middle-aged men. High-flying career women and young entrepreneurs as well as the 20-something offspring of senior Party officials comprise a rising niche market for luxury travel. As Chinese people get a taste for travel, they are looking for cultural experience and exploration.

As second- and third-tier American cities like Minneapolis, Phoenix, and San Antonio work overtime to lure Chinese tourists, we can see a new trend emerging in the American travel industry. Where only cities like New York or Los Angeles pitched themselves as travel hotspots in China, now we see cities in the American interior reaching out. With the enthusiasm (and deep pockets) of these first-time tourists, a huge boost for the American tourism industry in tough times could come speaking Chinese and carrying a tour group flag.

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