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The Future of Tourism is Attracting Chinese Visitors | Universal Consensus

By: Andreas Fried, V.P. of Product Development

Around 78 million Chinese traveled abroad last year – spending some $80 billion in the process. ITA figures show that 1.1 million Chinese people visited the U.S. in 2011, which means that there is a huge potential for the American hospitality industry to attract more Chinese visitors. Visit California statistics shows that the Golden State has 48% of the U.S. market share and an astonishing 29% increase year over year of Chinese visitors. The DOC expects Chinese arrivals in the U.S. to increase by 259% between 2011 and 2017. China will soon dominate the global economy – the opportunity to get a head start may soon be lost.

The Problem – New Market Segment

A major problem for the American hospitality industry is an unfamiliarity with reaching and serving Chinese tourists. After all, China and the U.S. signed a joint memorandum to open up tourism as late as 2007. Furthermore, Chinese visitors’ preferences differ significantly from those of American and European travelers. Chinese tourists still prefer to travel within Asia. A recent University of South Carolina study indicates that Chinese tourists view the U.S. as “unfamiliar” and “unsafe”. Without understanding the preferences of your customers, it is obviously difficult to successfully reach them via marketing or make their stay successful.

What Are Chinese Travelers Looking For?

attract Chinese touristsThe key question is – what are Chinese travelers looking for? If we focus on the top-level motivators, we can distinguish a key motivational factor: Promoting Subtle Status Projection. What does this mean? It means that in a highly hierarchical society based on the importance of social capital, or “face”, where people are trying to stay on or climb the social ladder, Chinese tourists are looking for travel abroad to boost their social status. Therefore, while Americans and Europeans primarily value indulgence or a sense of adventure or cultural experience – Chinese visitors truly value travel as a tool for status projection.

This means, travel brands and locations should have externalized benefits, which helps foster social mobility. A trip could be a “chance to connect with important people” or a “spiritual awakening which will increase creativity and energy at work”. Have you ever seen an Asian tourist with an expensive camera and taking many photos? Having photos to share on social media and with family, friends, and colleagues, back home is a great way of enhancing your social status through travelling. Shopping is also essential for frugal Chinese who can buy luxury-brands at substantial discounts in the U.S. as these goods are heavily taxed in China. As Daniel Shen, owner of Lion Tours in Los Angeles, a Chinese tour operator, puts it “they want to give things to their families, their kids, their grandsons – they want to impress them.”

As photos of Chinese tourists are becoming ubiquitous, the boundaries are pushed – to really impress their friends and families back home, a group of Chinese tourists may want a photo of a great achievement. This could be a photo from the top of a mountain they climbed, a seemingly prestigious membership in a golf club or some other type of VIP treatment.

You may remember the word “subtle” was used with regards to status projection. Mattel, the maker of Barbie, has done poorly in China. China is, just as all East-Asian cultures, at its roots a collectivist society. The mantra for China’s ambitious upper-middle class is “stand out but fit in.” Barbie’s image is too flagrant and too extravagant. Blatant status projection is actually frowned upon and it could negatively affect someone’s social status as it is seen as disrespectful and it upsets social harmony. Social harmony is an essential value of Chinese society. There is a current struggle among Chinese consumers between ambition and conformity – this struggle is especially true among the younger generation.

Next Step

The next step is for the American hospitality industry to truly understand the Chinese visitor and how to tap into this huge, long-term opportunity. Understanding consumer behavior is a complexity, Chinese consumer behavior is highly complex, and there are many contradictions. Visit California has recently launched a “China Ready” program to help its clients bring more Chinese tourists to places such as Hollywood, Disneyland, SeaWorld, and its many outlet malls. Universal Consensus is an integral part of the “China Ready” program. The hospitality industry is unique in its collaborative spirit and the spill-off effect of these efforts can potentially benefit the entire U.S. visitor industry and the economy at large.

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