As the leading destination for Chinese travelers to the United States, California is projected to receive 1 million visitors from China in 2015 and the number is expected to exceed 1.8 million by 2018, a 78 percent increase over 2014, a tourism industry forum was told Tuesday in San Francisco.

“Global Ready — that’s one thing for this room to be sophisticated and understand how to connect with the Chinese traveler. We’ve got to educate all of our $180-million industry,” Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, told more than 500 tourism industry leaders attending Visit California’s 2016 Outlook Forum.

Global Ready is an educational platform launched by Visit California, a non-profit marketing organization tasked with developing tourism in the state by helping California’s tourism industry better serve the global traveler.

“So ‘Global Ready!'” said Beteta, “because we all know that Chinese are prolific in sharing their experiences, and word-of-mouth from friends to family is the most crucial connection to success in bringing Chinese visitors to California.”

“China really is the largest overseas market and also the fastest growing market for California,” Leona Reed, associate vice-president of global marketing with Visit California, told China Daily. “China is probably our largest success story. It has grown double digits in terms of visitation as well as economic impact over the last five years.”

California welcomed 996,000 Chinese visitors in 2014, a 21.6 percent increase over 2013, making China the largest source of overseas visitors for the state.

Chinese visitors spent more than $2.5 billion in the state in 2014, which is more than the spending of all visitors from the UK and Japan, the second- and third-largest overseas markets for California.

“By 2018, we are projecting both figures to double, and by 2020, potentially triple,” said Reed, adding that “2018, for all intents and purposes, is just around the corner.”

Airlift between California and China has witnessed a 44 percent increase in terms of the total capacity of seats year-on-year. “It means there’s a demand for California, and airlines are realizing that, so they are putting in new routes and new aircraft,” said Reed.

The growing market has promoted Visit California to increase its investment in Chinese tourism by opening two new offices in Chengdu and Guangzhou this year, in addition to Beijing and Shanghai, as well as committing $9 million in its 2015-16 fiscal year budget to Chinese marketing — an 80 percent increase from the previous year.

“We have doubled our investment (in China) since 2011. Every year we almost double our budget and we’ve gone from $800,000, which was our first year investment, to $9 million today,” said Reed.

The organization’s other strategies include telling the story directly to consumers through channels such as broadcast and online TV and social media, and establishing a strong strategy with the travel trade, making sure that California is represented by different tour operators and online travel agencies so that agents understand the diversity that California has to offer, according to Reed.

Social media, including Weibo, the Chinese version of twitter, is an important tool to deepen consumer engagement, said Beteta.

This year, Visit California launched a social campaign to attract families traveling to celebrate the Chinese New Year in California. San Francisco began celebrating the Chinese New Year in the 19th century and has the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of China, she said.

“We are so fortunate to have an abundance of cultural connections to that effort,” she said.

By LIA ZHU Feb. 24, 2016 on China Daily

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