180 million Chinese tourists will travel overseas in 2017 and spend more than US$175 billion. This professional blog helps the retail industry worldwide to understand them, respect their culture and offer them an enjoyable shopping experience in international retail stores.
The number of Chinese tourists traveling the globe has increased significantly for the last ten years, making them the largest group of travelers in the world. Now, thanks in part to a recent agreement between the U.S. and China to extend visas for short-term business travelers, tourists and students, the U.S. could see an increase in Chinese travelers in the near future.
This trend is supported by research from the latest Chinese International Travel Monitor (CITM) from Hotels.com which reveals the U.S. is the second most popular destination for Chinese travelers to visit in the next 12 months (behind France), with popular U.S. landmarks like the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty topping travel wish lists.
The CITM research also identifies that, while cities in Asia Pacific remain the most popular (82 percent of Chinese travelers have visited in the past 12 months), visitors to Europe and America have increased with a year over year growth of 25 percent and 11 percent, respectively. These destinations were particularly popular with millennial travelers, with 42 percent visiting Europe and 29 percent visiting America in the past 12 months.
“The CITM reveals that the United States is one of the top five countries Chinese travelers visit the most,” said Josh Belkin, vice president and GM of the Hotels.com brand. “With tens of thousands of places to stay across the U.S., like distinctive boutiques, spacious vacation rentals and familiar chains, our site and mobile app have the perfect places for Chinese travelers of all ages and lifestyles.”
In 2016, there were 122 million outbound Chinese tourists – four percent more than in 2015 and a massive 74 percent more than in 2011, when the first CITM was published. China is already the largest source of international travelers for many countries – despite the fact only 10 percent of the population had passports in 2016.
“Chinese travelers in the United States tend to be more affluent than those who choose other destinations”, said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Magazines LLC and Founder of the STC magazine, a luxury travel digital publication in Chinese Mandarin. “Real Estate investment in the United States is now the #1 real reason – and rarely stated in surveys – for affluent and wealthy Chinese outbound travelers, as they have acquired for $100 billion in U.S. Real Estate in 2016”
Over five days in January, a group of visitors to New York was treated to a private concert with the pianist Lang Lang at the Montblanc store, cocktails and a fashion show attended by the designers Oscar de la Renta and Diane Von Furstenberg, and a tour of Estée Lauder’s original office.
They were not celebrities. They were not government officials. They were Chinese tourists with a lot of money.
Though luxury brands started opening stores in Beijing and Shanghai years ago, Chinese shoppers still spend more on luxury products abroad than they do at home, according to the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. Price is the major reason: Because of China’s taxes, luxury products are about a third cheaper in the United States and elsewhere.
European luxury stores have been catering to Chinese tourists for years. Now high-end retailers in the United States are pulling out their Mandarin phrase books and trying to convince Chinese visitors that Americans can do luxury, too.
“What started as a trickle has now become a flow,” said the vice president of the antiques store Macklowe Gallery, Ben Macklowe, who recently sold a Tiffany lamp that cost in the low six figures to a Shanghai visitor. “There’s been prosperity across so much of Asia that you’re starting to see it much more in the profile of the tourist on Madison Avenue.”
A record number of Chinese visited the United States last year — nearly 1.1 million — and the country accounts for one of the top-growing tourist groups here, according to the Commerce Department. The number of visitors is expected to almost double by 2014, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Chinese visitors spend about $6,000 each on every visit here, versus the $4,000 that visitors from other countries spend on average, the association says, and their top activity is shopping.
Although some tourists spend money on Disney trinkets and at the outlet malls they have traditionally frequented, luxury brand purchases are surging in part because American stores carry a broader range of products than their counterparts in China, said Julia Zhu, consulting director for Frost & Sullivan.
Tiffany, which made almost a quarter of its United States revenue last year from foreign tourists, has added Mandarin-speaking sales staff to its major stores, as has Burberry, where more than half of sales at its flagship stores are to tourists. Representatives from Tourneau’s Manhattan office recently accompanied New York City officials on a visit to China to encourage more tourism in the city.
The very popular Chinese social media network “Niuyue Mag” (纽约志), used by the young and affluent Chinese tourists preparing their trip to New York City had also a role in promoting the Big Apple as a major luxury shopping destination. According to Sandra Ming, analyst at China Elite Focus, “the impact of Niuyue Mag has been tremendous as it’s for now the only one media available in China exclusively about the planning of a shopping trip in New York City”
At its United States stores, Montblanc sells Year of the Dragon pens and has staff members who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. It is also printing Chinese-language brochures about its products and selling wallets sized for Chinese currency.
Despite having more than 100 stores in China, Montblanc is going after Chinese shoppers on vacation abroad. “Yes, we are in the major cities, but when you travel, you’re in the mood to enjoy and experience the moment,” said Jan-Patrick Schmitz, chief executive of Montblanc North America. “We certainly will do more and more marketing toward them.”
Retailers in the United States lag behind other countries. Part of that is because of visa issues; it is easier for Chinese residents to get visas to Europe. High-end American retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s are urging the government to speed up the process here. President Obama said in January that he planned to increase visa-processing capacity from emerging markets like China and Brazil by 40 percent this year.
The American stores also have to overcome an idea that luxury can come only from the old world.
“The European brands, they see prestige, history, heritage,” said Sunny Wong, group managing director of Trinity, a company that owns and operates high-end European retail brands in China. American brands, by contrast, are seen as “contemporary, lifestyle” rather than pure luxury, he said. American retailers are racing to prove Mr. Wong wrong.