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    Dragon Week Gives China's World Travelers A Taste Of Manhattan High Life

    Dragon Week was both a celebration of the Chinese Year of the Dragon and of the growing spending power of China's small but growing coterie of big-spending world travelers.
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Travel

    Visitors Took Part In Events At Bergdorf Goodman, Empire State Building, Ralph Lauren, Montblanc#

    Over the last five days, the inaugural Dragon Week brought retailers and luxury brands in New York face-to-face with some of China's emerging outbound tourist-shoppers, a highly sought-after but poorly understood demographic. Organized by the membership-based network Affinity China, which plans to hold upcoming Dragon Week events in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the week of events was clearly a learning experience for attendees as well as Affinity China and the participating retailers. Consisting of a series of private events that gave attendees exclusive access to fashion designers, brand execs, and public figures like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, designers Diane Von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta, and pianist Lang Lang, Dragon Week was both a celebration of the Chinese Year of the Dragon and of the growing spending power of China's small but growing coterie of big-spending world travelers.

    Events during the week reflected many of the interests and products most important to these outbound travelers, ranging from cosmetics (Estée Lauder) to watches (Piaget), wine (Tribeca Wine Merchants) and fashion (Ralph Lauren, J Mendel, Coach, Bergdorf Goodman). Special events like an Empire State Building lighting ceremony and private performance by Lang Lang at the Montblanc flagship gave attendees the chance to take part in rare experiences closed off to most tourists. Though attendance by first-time travelers from mainland China was perhaps lower than expected, due to visa hangups or the importance of spending Chinese New Year at home with family, the week served to demystify the much discussed emergence of China's experience-focused international tourists.

    As Chris Noble, President of Affinity China, told Jing Daily, the educational aspect of Dragon Week was possibly its greatest value, both to the companies who took part and the attendees. Said Noble, "The brands got an introduction to a different kind of shopper, while the shoppers got introductions to the brands," adding, "There are always things you want to do differently, but anytime you have Mayor Bloomberg and Diane Von Furstenberg showing up for events, you've done something right."

    Asked about the most valuable lessons gleaned from the first Dragon Week, Noble said one of the biggest takeaways -- particularly for brands and companies that are just now turning their attention to the China market -- is that the Chinese demographic is not one monolith but rather consists of several segments. While Dragon Week attendees included a smattering of first-time travelers from mainland China, the majority of guests were "international Chinese," who are accustomed to living around the world, as well as many next-generation Chinese students based in the US. As such, a key educational point for the brands that held private events during Dragon Week was that these consumer segments display significant differences that need to be taken into account.

    However, one commonality that Noble noted across every group taking part in Dragon Week is that "access works." Said Noble, "The events that had a special draw or a chance to meet people like [Mayor] Bloomberg, Diane Von Furstenberg and Oscar [de la Renta], Lang Lang, those were packed." For events with brands less well-known among Chinese shoppers, attendance ranged from around a dozen to 40. The major learning from this observation, Noble added, "is that events that come with [exclusive] access are going to bring in the crowds."

    Another major educational point Noble took away from Dragon Week came down to customer acquisition and the way brands expect to cultivate consumer loyalty over the long term. Said Noble, Affinity China needs to "focus on the brand and PR building aspect of what we're doing for our partners and broaden their thinking about timing. It's not, 'I'm going to make every dime back the week of the event,' It's got to be, 'I've made this investment and I can get these people back [as customers] time and time again.'"

    Overall, Noble added, Affinity learned what works and what doesn't work so well when bringing mainland Chinese shoppers and major brands together. Asked to elaborate, Noble said one thing that will be done differently in future Dragon Weeks in Hawaii, New York and elsewhere is to start promoting earlier. "So many in our target market in China go to the beach in Maldives or Thailand for Chinese New Year, so it's a bit harder to get them to come to New York in January, which is why we'll likely try to get them to come again in October." With Chinese outbound tourism -- and spending by outbound tourists -- expected to grow in the double digits for the next several years at the very least, it's clear that events like Dragon Week are coming in at the early side of a trend that will likely be highly profitable for brands prepared to cater to Chinese tourists, and less profitable for others.

    What it all comes down to is trial and error, Noble said. "You have to take a chance and stick your neck out a little bit to figure out what works, and then keep moving fast and do more of what works. We're really happy, especially when we look back at the events [this week] and our ability to recruit new members."

    "In terms of long-term value for our brand partners," Noble concluded, "I've got no worries."

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