Beyond NYC and LA: 7 Lesser-Known U.S. Destinations Bidding for Chinese Tourists

    While Los Angeles and New York remain the most popular U.S. destinations among Chinese visitors, other destinations are now also upping the ante in China.
    Destinations off the beaten track are gaining popularity with China's experience-seeking travelers. (Shutterstock)
    Chelsea ToczauerAuthor
      Published   in Travel

    As China’s upper and middle-class citizens increasingly travel abroad, major U.S. tourism hubs, like New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle, continue to be popular destinations. But if the United States is to achieve its goal of bringing about 100 million tourists to its cities by 2021, with just under 25 percent from China, it's expected that the destinations it markets will have to move beyond the big cities.

    Now, as more flight routes open up that pass over an increasing number of stopover towns, U.S. destinations that didn't have much exposure before are now getting in on the action. The timing, arguably, is right—Chinese tourists are increasingly open to exploring spots that are off the beaten track, and many U.S. visitors from China are visiting multiple times, for example to visit family working or studying abroad. Below are seven U.S. destinations that have been ramping up their efforts to attract these experience-seeking travelers.

    1. New Orleans, Louisiana#

    The southeastern state of Louisiana is a melting pot of French-Canadian, African and American culture. New Orleans exemplifies the state’s Cajun and Creole culture and is well-known for its Cajun influence, jazz legacy and diverse populace. While not an unknown city to most, New Orleans has only recently begun gaining brand recognition in China, likewise, Europe's recent economic downturn prompted the state of Lousiana to take steps to get an in on the burgeoning Chinese tourist market. 2016 was a busy year as the state Office of Tourism and New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau conducted two consecutive marketing trips to Beijing and Shanghai in September. New Orleans also hosted over 100 Chinese delegates at IPW 2016, the largest travel trade show in the United States. More recently, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Louisiana Office of Tourism hired the East-West Corporation. This firm based in China supports Louisiana and other Travel South USA state members in marketing strategy to attract Chinese tourists.

    2. Holland, Michigan#

    Michigan communities are making big moves to attract Chinese tourists since new direct flights have been established between China and the cities of Chicago and Detroit. Holland, Michigan is a leading city promoting ‘Pure Michigan’ to Chinese tourists. In the last five years, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Travel Michigan manager Dave Lorenz have led delegations to China to promote tourism in Michigan. Michigan now has a tourism website and promotional videos and materials in Chinese. Beyond the natural beauty of Michigan’s landscapes, Holland also advertises its Dutch heritage to Chinese travelers. A highlight of Holland’s cultural heritage is their city’s real working windmill, which offers Chinese travelers a prime selfie shot. Holland’s Visitors Bureau budgets $10,000-$15,000 for international marketing, which they believe will pay off in getting a slice of the emerging Chinese tourism market.

    3. Pacific County, Washington#

    Seattle is a top destination for Chinese travelers after hit movies such as America’s Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and China’s Finding Mr. Right (2013) romanticized the city. Chinese tourists are now looking past big-city draws for a slower paced American experience. Pacific County is working off of non-stop flights established between China with Portland and Seattle in the last few years by producing promotional materials in Mandarin about the local area. Pacific County has worked with China Visit Tour USA to bring Chinese tourist delegations to the locale in the last year. While regional wines and breweries were included in the itinerary, the biggest hits with the delegation were more ‘rural’ American experiences. The delegation loved the fresh seafood, cranberry bog, and fishing experiences. As Chinese fascination with the American Northwest persists, Pacific County and other small towns’ popularity will likely be on the rise.

    4. Monterey Park, California#

    Though not a popular site for U.S. travelers, Monterey Park in California is a well-recognized travel destination in China. Los Angeles is easy to reach from Monterey Park, making it a premium central hub for Chinese travelers. More importantly, the city draws in Chinese tourists with its familiar and accessible services. While California state already offers a Chinese tourism industry guide for local businesses, Monterey Park has developed a sophisticated model to support Chinese tourists abroad. The city is well equipped to greet Chinese travelers with Asian banks, multilingual travel agencies, and Chinese restaurants. Chinese nationals also support the construction of, and investment in, brand-name hotels like Courtyard by Marriott and Double Tree by Hilton in the area. While some locals are skeptical of the growing Chinese tourism, the city itself is on course to continue development of this industry.

    5. Muscatine, Iowa#

    While some may not see anything unique about Muscatine, Iowa, a Chinese investor lauds it as the ‘real America.' Chinese investor Glad Cheng’s initial fascination with Muscatine stems from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s connection to the town, where he stayed a few nights in 1985 to “immerse himself in American culture.” This house is now the Sino-U.S. Friendship House. With scenic Mississippi River views and ties to famous American author Mark Twain, Cheng sees the potential for Muscatine to become a Chinese tourism destination. There has already been $42 million invested in the current construction of the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center. The hotel project is set to open in late summer 2017. Last year also saw an increase in the number of Chinese economic delegations visiting Muscatine. Muscatine’s local government devoted a Muscatine-China Connection page on their official site and aims to increase the number of Chinese tourists by the end of 2017.

    6. St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida#

    Orlando and Miami are globally renowned travel destinations, but the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Florida are now making a bid for expanding in Chinese tourism. In 2016, the executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and other Florida tourism delegates visited China to promote their towns. The executive director is also pushing for the establishment of direct flights from China to Tampa, which he sees as key to attracting Chinese tourists. The commission previously worked with Tampa Airport to establish direct flights five times a week with Frankfurt, Germany to market to German tourists. Until direct flights from Tampa are established with China, St. Pete/Clearwater is releasing marketing materials “playing up their sun, sand and theme parks” in Mandarin to advertise the two cities.

    7. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania#

    With more and more leisure travel based in Philadelphia, Chinese tourists are increasingly taking to Pennsylvania’s smaller cities for a ‘real’ American experience. Harrisburg attracts Chinese tourists because of its Hershey Chocolate Park and rural Amish communities. From 2009 to 2014, China accounted for one-third of the 49 percent increase in spending by foreign visitors in Harrisburg’s Lancaster County. In 2015, the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau met and slated China as a top mission for marketing. Since then, the bureau has been working with Chinese tour operators to increase the number of tour groups visiting Harrisburg.

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