China Daily reported that tourism from China to Los Angeles has nearly quadrupled over the past four years. Visitors rose from 158,000 in 2009 to 570,000 in 2013. With over a million Chinese visiting California last year and a projected 2 million by 2020, retailers and restaurants are thrilled at the reported $6,000 spending-per-visit.
According to the California Travel and Tourism Commission, Chinese tourists’ average spending of $6,000 per person during a trip to the US is the highest in the world. Wide selections of designer’s bags and shoes drive Chinese to California on shopping sprees. A 7,000-member Chinese tour group traveled to California last summer, and each member spent $10,000 on average during their one-week stay.
The biggest driver of this growth appears to have been the visa policy approved by Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November 2014, the two leaders agreed to extend tourist visas to 10 years and student visas to five years.
Following the November agreement, U.S. consulates in China have recorded a 68 percent increase in visa issuance, indicating a spectacular increase in the plans for Chinese to visit the U.S. in the future, with most coming at least initially to California.
At the fall 2014 “Visit California Outlook Forum” attended by over 500 California tourism industry professionals at La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs, experts predicted that Chinese visitors will spend $2.2 billion in California in 2015 and 2016.
The China Daily reported that Kathryn Smits of International Tourism at the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board told the Forum that airline service between China and California major gateways of Los Angeles and San Francisco has increased 44 percent.
Chinese airlines have added new direct flights from Los Angeles to cities in China or plan to add flights due to the availability of Chinese-language services to assist travelers. In July, Air China will add a third daily direct flight from Los-Angeles and Beijing and China Eastern Airlines will start direct service to Hefei, in southeast China. Both airlines credit the relaxed visa policy for accelerating growth.
The Beverly Hills Visitor Center commented that more than half of the premier stores in Beverly Hills now employ Mandarin Chinese-speaking salespersons. Most stores in Beverly Hills stores accept China’s Union Pay credit card. Five-star Beverly Hills hotels now feature Chinese-style breakfasts and house slippers year round. The Visitor Center also provides shopping maps and discount coupons printed in Chinese.
Well-heeled Chinese tourists seem to like what they have seen on their visits to the Golden State. Southern California real estate agent Le Yuan told the China Daily that he had seen a double-digit increase in clients this January. Many Chinese clients can fly here to see the houses and neighborhood,” Le said. “Travel is just so easy.”