China overtakes the UK as the number one source of international visitors to the USA

China

This will be the headline within 5 years from now, according to the Department of Commerce/National Travel and Tourism Office.
The forecast predicts 4.9 million Chinese visitors versus 4.4 million Brits. China generated 1.8 million arrivals in 2013, setting a new record for arrivals to the United States for the seventh consecutive year. China now ranks 7th in visitors to the United States. Spending by Chinese visitors to and within the United States was a record $21 billion in 2013, second only to Canada.
5 years is not a long time in global marketing. Are we ready? What lessons can we learn from the past?
Many years ago before the modern world existed (1992 pre-internet) I was Chairman of the International Marketing Committee with the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Inbound tourism to the USA was in its infancy in general marketing terms. Many larger travel, tourism and hospitality companies had established international sales strategies that were simple in nature due to the (then) lack of electronic sophistication.
The US industry was familiar with marketing to the European countries and were embarking on South American initiatives. South America was regarded as an emerging market.
Making many headlines back in the early 1990’s was the super resilient Japanese market. They were known as high spenders and everybody wanted a piece of the Yen action. Back in 1990 3.2 million Japanese visited the USA. They spent on average $2,312 per person. Compare that to the $330 per person coming from Canada, but there were 17.3 million Canadians and were much easier to reach from a marketing perspective. Japan became the “Market du Jour” and we went all out to sell the USA to the Japanese.
The big “ah-ha” moment was quickly learnt, how do we not just attract but more importantly, how do we serve international travelers. Being smart and savvy marketers we began to gain insight into the Japanese traveler.
Food, as an example, was very American. Asian items simply didn’t exist in mainstream hotel menus. We weren’t too good in understanding other cultures, traditions and matters of protocol.
We can’t attract international visitors and forget that we have to serve them. This was the key driver behind my small team writing and publishing a book on International Marketing, called “The Hospitality Guide to Attracting and Serving International Travelers”. This was published by the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
It became so popular that we teamed up with the Department of Commerce, US Travel Association and many DMO’s and developed a road show providing a practical approach to the topic.
Fast forward.
Today, China is the country getting all the attention. Our government has just announced the extension of the validity of tourist and business visas to ten years, Brand USA have compelling sales and marketing programs in place, many states have launched aggressive marketing plans with China as a stated top priority, NTA have a dedicated China program, many mega hotel brands have sales programs and regional Chinese offices in place – some for many years.
A few weeks ago, CITM (China International Travel Mart) took place in Shanghai with the largest contingent of American suppliers. The participants ranged from large to small suppliers, each wanting to grab a share of the rapidly expanding Chinese outbound market.
Many participants will not get Chinese visitors. That may sound harsh but it will be a matter of fact. If you build it they may not necessarily come. Do you have something that will appeal to a Chinese traveler? What will it take to woo these Chinese travelers? Are you prepared to make the long term investment required and have you built your ROI model?
China expert Chris Spring, president of New York based Spring O’Brien, represents the China National Tourist Office here in the USA. He suggests that a good first step is to develop relationships with the established Chinese inbound operators here in the USA. Chris noted “If you have the right product in the right place you will get immediate business. By developing product with the inbound operators you will learn the nuances of the Chinese traveler first hand. It will be an invaluable learning tool and a lot less expensive than a sales or marketing program in China.”
China has four times the population of the USA. How much do you invest in the easier to reach domestic market? Is your investment in China going to resonate?

Before you follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and begin your Chinese adventure I would strongly suggest a deep understanding of what the road ahead looks like. In the words of a Chinese proverb “Dig the well before you are thirsty”. Be prepared. Here is a basic check list that may help you before you start seeing Chinese travelers at your front door.

  • Are there any Chinese travelers already visiting my area?
  • Do I have Chinese translations of any informational material?
  • I have Chinese translations of any informational material?
  • Do I have a Chinese speaker on staff or in my community?
  • Are Chinese language menus available?
  • Are menu items Chinese friendly?
    •   Rice option
    •   Asian veggies
    •   Chili sauce (Chinese not Heinz)
    •   Soy sauce
    •   Tea
  • Appropriate dining utensils
  • Is there a smoking area
  • Are there globally understood symbols in place
  • Where can currency be exchanged
  • Is there a local doctor who speaks Chinese
  • Free WiFi connectivity

A pragmatic self assessment will help you define your real potential. Do you have a marketing plan? Does your location have appeal to the Chinese market? Are you accessible? Does your DMO have a plan in place that you can co-op with? Do you understand your defined target market? As with any market Chinese travelers do not all share the same demographic. Are you up to date with current affairs that may impact your plans? Can results be measured?
China will, without doubt, have a dramatic impact on inbound tourism. There are many who have been marketing to China for numerous years. It would be prudent to listen to those who have made this marketing journey before. Let’s learn from lessons of the past. I will end appropriately with another Chinese proverb…”Only he that has traveled the road knows where the holes are deep”.

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2 thoughts on “China overtakes the UK as the number one source of international visitors to the USA

  1. You speak in bulk numbers of the spending by different nationalities, but for many businesses it is the spend per person that matters. For many businesses having a carrying capacity limit, that is when they are full they can’t take more, it matters what each person spends. So far from the statistics I’ve seen, the average per person spend by Brits far exceeds the amount by Chinese. Would you for example choose to fill your hotel at, say, $100 per night or with people spending $200 per night? This is why greater analysis needs to be done when ascertaining the true value of a market.

    • Thanks for your response Graham. Each hotel is different and has different feeder markets. Every hotel should do their own market assessment. There is a lot of validated data available. This comes from the US Travel Association, Smith Travel Research, local CVB’s as well as all hotel chains. Individual hotels should be doing channel mix analysis to determine their own high valued guests. Every international traveler has 2 bags but the important part is how much they leave in the country they are visiting (eating, drinking, theatre, tours etc). That is a big factor and adds to the spend criteria. Statistically, the spend per country is an aggregate of the spend per person. Please let me know if you would like to see the data.

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