While Portland, Oregon makes its fair share of travel bucket lists, few people would expect that luxe tourism is one of them. Research shows, however, that Chinese travelers, known for their high-end spending, are now the largest tourism group in the state of Oregon, just ahead Japanese and British travelers. Travel industry firms in Seattle are seeing similar trends, and well-known companies are taking steps to make Chinese travelers more welcome. Travel and lifestyle entities in Portland are also paying attention, and Sentinel, a hotel under the Provenance Hotels group, is one of them.
Sentinel is located in downtown Portland, mere blocks away from some of the city's trendiest spots to see and be seen. Down the street from its doorstep, Tasty and Alder boasts refined dining and an unmissable brunch, while popular food trucks are lined up nearby. The hotel itself weaves locally made food products into its luxurious accommodations. Each room features a minibar where, alongside the basics like M&Ms and cans of soda, are honey from local artisanal brand Bee Local, Oregon-produced olive oil, and even a mini bottle of "Genuine Portland Rain,” a jest at the city's nearly constant state of overcast weather. Room service means being able to order a pint from one of Portland's most talked-about ice cream parlors, Salt & Straw, or going the more healthy route and doing fresh-pressed juice from Kure Juice Bar.
While Chinese tourists barely have to leave Sentinel to get their fill of locally made souvenirs (according to the Chinese Luxury Traveler 2015 report, 56 percent of Chinese shoppers want local specialties), Portland's scene of homegrown, high-end brands also naturally accommodate young Chinese shoppers' increasing demand for niche labels. Within walking distance of Sentinel are throngs of independent boutiques, including Portland's own designer clothing store Frances May.
Many locally owned stores near the hotel have reported seeing mostly Japanese tourists during the high season, but China, a nation with wealthy consumers who are increasingly making investments in lifestyle trends, is hot on Japan's heels. There are already small, yet notable examples illustrating the idea that the Chinese have a closer relationship with Portland. In Greater China last year, Portland's Voodoo Doughnuts opened in Taipei, while the coveted Portland-based magazine Kinfolk began publishing a Chinese-language version a couple of years ago based on the prediction that Chinese readers will be attracted to the publication's lifestyle-heavy aesthetic.
In terms of numbers, the amount of Chinese visitors in the state is growing more than 20 percent year-on-year, according to an article in Oregon Public Broadcasting. Sentinel, along with its sister hotels in Portland, Hotel Lucia and Hotel dLuxe, is accommodating this spurt by introducing Chinese versions of its website. In the last six months, the hotel group also launched simplified and traditional Chinese translations of two of its hotels in Seattle and New Orleans. Additionally, they have begun offering an afternoon tea featuring Portland's own Smith Teamaker, which they plan to market to Chinese tourists.
Sentinel PR and Marketing Manager Tess Burick is also conscious of the fact that China's millennial travelers are looking for more than just a high-end shopping spree when they travel. "Portland's location and urban culture really cater to these experience-seeking travelers," she said. "Portland is a town where people are incredibly proud of their craft and are generally willing to offer new experiences that take locals and travelers behind the scenes of their work. These experiences include pop-up restaurant collaborations, hands-on tasting classes, and open studio sessions by local designers.
It's certainly a different approach compared to that of other West Coast destinations like Los Angeles, which marketed its upscale malls specifically to the increasing flow of visitors from China. Instead, Portland's offerings are part of a package that is likely in tune with the more younger, hip affluent Chinese traveler seeking authentic American adventures.