The New York City mansion of Henry Clay Frick, one of America’s greatest Gilded Age industrialists and patrons of the arts, is now home to the public museum known as the Frick Collection. And while it’s usually quiet after closing hours, tonight it was filled with a lively crowd of around 20 Chinese tourists on a special tour—one that gave them a taste of what life was like for the famed 19th century-financier.
It was an event collaboratively organized by the Frick Collection and the Chinese marketing agency Attract China and was the grand finale of their guided day tour of Madison Avenue. The experience started around 4:30 pm (lasting around four hours) and was part of a new package put together along with the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District.
While Lower Manhattan has attracted tourists lately thanks to its vibrant and edgy art scene, the Upper East side holds a different allure for travelers: one of old-time glamour and elegance. Unlike popular stops such as Times Square or Rockefeller Center in Midtown, “Madison Avenue is not somewhere you’d easily find Chinese tourists,” said the CEO of Attract China David Becker. But there’s great potential in this area that’s been overlooked.
Noting this marketing potential, the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District has aimed to provide Chinese consumers—particularly affluent independent Chinese travelers—with the full-fledged experience of living and shopping on Madison Avenue. In order to offer such an experience, Attract China is setting up guided tours where travelers can enjoy a half-day or full-day shopping and luxury experience via well-tailored stylist services. The marketing agency has also set up a WeChat mini-program called “Madison Ave., New York” (纽约麦迪逊大道) for tourists to learn about all the stops along the guided tour, and it includes brief introductions of the stores (and other destinations), their hours of operation, and their exact locations. But it’s not only luxury retailers that appear on the mini-program. There are also hotels, restaurants, fashion boutiques, and art galleries on the list, and users can customize their own lists of favorites by bookmarking locations.
Aside from using WeChat as a platform for attracting potential visitors to Madison Avenue, a Chinese website produced by Attract China called Xiaoyaodao (逍遥道) has contributed to more online exposure for these guided tours, and Chinese tourists can book tours through the site’s Madison Avenue page. The guided shopping tour mainly features a select group of luxury fashion and jewelry brand stores, such as Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, and Stella McCartney. This cluster of stores on Madison Avenue not only saves tourists from unnecessary traffic, but the area also stands out in retail terms as “stores, flagship or whatever, offering exclusive products you can’t find elsewhere,” said Becker.
The group that I met with is mainly composed of New York City tour guides. “These people are all local Chinese living in New York for years,” said Becker. “And they have their own tour operating businesses.” During the tours, guides connected with roughly 20 different luxury brands along Madison. “We just have a short stay in each store,” said Ms. Zou, a young member of the group. “And the sales associate will give a short intro about the brand, and then it’s just personal shopping time.” From her experience, the shopping tour feels personal, private, and flexible, but the visit wasn’t exclusive or separated from other shoppers in the store.
Ideally, these events will be useful for local tour guides and stores, so that a range of Chinese tourists will want to tour Madison Avenue.
Long-term New York City residents acting as local guides are more specific when targeting independent Chinese travelers, who want more sophisticated travel experiences. “They all speak very good English,” added Becker about the tour guides. Their familiarity with the language and the local environment makes more nuanced shopping tours on Madison Avenue possible, not to mention cultural tours that include art galleries and the Frick Collection.
Aside from the guided tours, Chinese travelers are beginning to frequent Madison Avenue locations more. “Chinese independent travelers are already increasing significantly,” said Senior Manager of Media Relations and Marketing at the Frick Collection Alexis Light. “We started with the Chinese map and then an audio guide featuring Chinese introductions and a virtual guide (a five-minute introduction video) with simultaneous translation.” After setting up a solid foundation of education materials, the museum is now mobilizing their efforts to accept Chinese mobile payments from tourists, namely Alipay and WeChat Pay.
Another tour guide who didn’t reveal his name and exact occupation told me that “we all bought quite a few products earlier… looking at the inside of a wealthy man’s house makes you feel like you’re actually living a wealthy life.”
It could be that store tours followed by a cultural visit like the Frick is the winning combination for brands and tour guides alike.