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Many more Chinese will spend Lunar New Year in US

By Chen Jia in San Francisco  (China Daily)

09:33, February 01, 2013

(China Daily)

With the Spring Festival holidays approaching, many Chinese have signed up for travel packages to the United States, adding to a major source of US tourism.

Chinese and US travel agents closely monitor the burgeoning market of middle-class Chinese families heading for trips during an otherwise slow winter season for US tourism.

The California Travel and Tourism Commission, the state's official travel promoter, and four Chinese tourism companies have jointly launched a project with the goal of attracting 1,500 Spring Festival vacationers from China.

The bigger objective is to make California the top destination for Chinese travelers during Spring Festival, says the commission's president, Caroline Beteta.

Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year, begins on Feb 10 this year and lasts a week.

Helen Tsui, director of Asia-Pacific tourism for the San Francisco Travel Association, says China is an important and growing market for her city.

"We are one of the first destinations that established representative offices in Shanghai and Beijing - more than 15 years ago," she says.

"Since last year, our Shanghai office has also been working with five leading outbound tour operators in Shanghai to launch the Western America tour package targeting the Chinese New Year holiday," she says.

There will be four groups departing between Feb 7 and 10 for a nine-day tour package covering San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Preliminary figures show that Chinese citizens made more than 80 million trips to other countries in 2012, says Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy.

On the other side of the ledger, China saw a steady inflow of foreign tourists, Dai says.

Around the world, people made an estimated 1 billion trips to foreign lands in 2012, with China on its way to becoming the No 1 source of cross-border tourism, according to the United Nations' World Tourism Organization.

The US remains a popular destination for globe-hopping Chinese, and the important Chinese New Year holiday is a busy time for travel.

Li Zhi, a 31-year-old engineer from Beijing, got tired of the huge crowds that line up in Chinese cities at this time of the year to buy train tickets back to their hometowns.

He found he could beat the February travel rush and stay within his travel budget by taking a 12-day trip to the US.

"I'm paying for my parents' travel expenses to have a special Spring Festival with them in the US this year," Li says.

Generous holiday spending indicates to friends and family that one is on good financial footing.

"Not to mention, spending the holiday in the US is very cool and worth showing off!" he exclaims.

Zhang Huiling, deputy manager of the American travel department at China CYTS Tours Holding Co, says her firm designed two itineraries for Chinese visitors - a 12-day West Coast trip and a 15-day tour across the US.

Prices range between 24,800 yuan ($4,000) and 31,800 yuan, depending on departure times and airline.

This year's West Coast route includes three national parks: Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Bryce Canyon and Zion in Utah. Two days' accommodation at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is another selling point.

Wang Qian, head of American travel at CITS Ltd, says a trip to the US during Spring Festival is cheaper than in the peak season from July to September.

Sarah Roach, tourism manager at Bloomingdale's department store in San Francisco, says she expects Chinese travelers will do plenty of shopping.

She says Bloomingdale's will have a number of special promotions for Lunar New Year, with events throughout the store including traditional lion dancers, musicians, art exhibits, feng shui presentations, and tea and dim sum tasting. The San Francisco store has more than 40 sales clerks who speak Mandarin and Cantonese.

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city welcomed an estimated 41 million US visitors and 11 million international visitors in 2012.

Helping drive the upward trend are tourists from China, whose numbers have surged by 442 percent since 2006, according to NYC & Co, the city's official tourism promotion arm.

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