Market Overview

    Yr/Yr % Chg
Visitors to California (2014) * 996,000 21.6%
Visitor Spending (2014) ** $2,244 million 15.2%
California Market Share (2014) 45.5% -
Average Length of Stay - nights (2013) 9.5 -
Weekly Non-Stop Flights (2015) 77 6.9%
Weekly Non-Stop Seats (2015) 24,071 6.1%
2015 Visitation Forecast (% change vs. 2014) 1,165,000 14%
2018 Visitation Forecast (% change vs. 2014) 1,820,000 78.1%

Source: Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, CIC Research, Tourism Economics, OAG

* Visitor volumes: The U.S. Department of Commerce started to count one-night visitors in 2014. This change inflated Yr/Yr visitation gains compared to previous years but delivers a more accurate picture of total visitation.

** Visitor spending: The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis made changes to their methodology in 2014 to include spending by students, temporary workers, and people traveling for reasons related to their health. Although this change increased total travelers, some Yr/Yr declines in spending per visitor have been seen which are more likely related to the gaining strength of the US dollar vs. foreign currencies in the 4th quarter of 2014.

Visitor Spending by Category 2013

  % spending $ Category Spending
Accommodations 19.7% $384 million
Entertainment/Recreation 12.1% $236 million
Food & Beverage 8.8% $171 million
Ground Transportation 11.5% $224 million
Shopping 7.3% $142 million
U.S. Air Transportation 38.2% $744 million
Other 2.3% $45 million
Total 100% $1,947 million

Source: U.S. Dept. of Commerce; CIC Research, Inc.; U.S. BEA; Tourism Economics


International Markets

The number of Chinese visitors to California continued to outpace all other overseas source markets in 2014, growing by 21.6 percent to a record 996,000, making China the No. 1 source of overseas visitors for California.

Chinese buying power also surged by 32.7 percent in 2014, with visitors spending $2.24 billion in California or three times the spending of visitors from the United Kingdom and Japan – the No. 2 and No. 3 overseas markets for California.

China outbound visitation hit a record high of 114 million in 2014, a 20 percent year-on-year increase. Chinese spent more than $140 billion on overseas trips in 2014, up 20.7 percent year-on-year and making Chinese the No. 1 spenders on travel in the world.

The U.S. government extended the validity of Chinese business and tourist visas to 10 years and student visas to five years, which will result in even more rapid growth in visitation to the United States and consequently to California, which enjoys more than 45 percent market share of all Chinese travel to the United States. The new policy will drive significant numbers of repeat visitors to California – a trend already evident among Flexible Independent Travel (FIT) and semi-FIT travelers – and will stimulate in-depth tours to just California. As a result, growth in beyond-the-gateway travel across California will benefit a wider range of California partners. The policy also is expected to shorten the length of Chinese shoulder seasons and extend peak season periods. With continuing strong growth in the China market, the Chinese travel trade is eager to develop new California tour packages, and major tour operators are hungry for destination information to develop new products to cater to the different needs of group and FIT travelers.

In response to the rapid growth in arrivals from China, Chinese and international airlines increased flights to California by 6.9 percent in 2014 and further expansion is planned in 2015. In addition to airlift increases from the traditional gateway cities of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, new services were added from two new China gateways in 2014 – Chengdu and Wuhan. Greater flight capacity will allow Visit California China to expand its efforts in developing second-tier markets and ultimately reach the entire China market with a emphasis on establishing a foothold in West China centered on Chengdu.


China’s economic growth is gradually slowing as the central government pursues major structural transformation of the economy. Full-year Gross Domestic Product growth for 2014 was a relatively stable 7.4 percent reflecting the effects of stimulation measures introduced in mid-2013. However, recent growth rates are significantly below levels experienced over the past decade as the drivers of the economy evolve, shifting from manufacturing to services on the supply side, and from investment to consumption on the demand side.

China’s growth is projected to continue at current levels over the medium term and structural shifts will become more entrenched. A planned decline in investment growth will be largely offset by a gradual increase in consumption growth, the latter supported by an increase in average household incomes.

National urbanization is at the forefront of further reform policies to enable infrastructure development to drive economic growth and government support for this policy has helped to increase consumption. In 2014, total retail sales of consumer goods grew by 13.6 percent, a slightly higher rate than in 2013, and demonstrating rapid growth in the spending power of China’s mass market. By 2030, China’s urban population is expected to hit 1 billion as current reforms focus on allowing better assimilation of migrants into cities and raising productivity.

As travelers to international destinations mostly hail from China’s booming gateway cities, the controlled growth will lead to similar significant increases in international travel in the coming decade.


Nonstop Airservice into California

    Avg Weekly Flights Avg Weekly Seats  
Airport  Airline 93 28,415 Cities Served
LAX Air China  18 5,451 Beijing 
  American  7 1,724 Shanghai 
  China Eastern 11 3,037 Shanghai 
  China Southern  7 3,514 Guangzhou
  Delta Air Lines 3 903 Shanghai 
  United 7 1,693 Shanghai 
SFO Air China  7 2,336 Beijing
  China Eastern 7 1,634 Shanghai 
  China Southern  5 1,159 Guangzhou, Wuhan
  United  21 6,964 Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai



There were 77 non-stop flights a week from China to California in 2014, a 6.9 percent increase over 2013.

  • United Airlines introduced three new direct flights a week from Chengdu to San Francisco in June and will increase the service to daily this summer, opening up a fourth key gateway and the West China market to direct non-stop travel to California.
  • China Southern Airlines launched three new flights a week on the Wuhan-Guangzhou-San Francisco route in December and will add four more per week on the route from June 2015.
  • United Airlines will fly twice a day from Shanghai to San Francisco from May 2015, doubling the capacity of its current service.
  • Air China is scheduled to increase its services from two to three flights daily on the Beijing-Los Angeles route from May 2015.
  • Delta Air Lines will launch daily non-stop Los Angeles-Shanghai service in July 2015.
  • Hainan Airlines will launch new service between Beijing and San Jose in June 2015, offering five flights per week and opening a third key gateway city in California with direct non-stop service to China.
  • Capital Airlines, owned by the Hainan Group, will introduce Hangzhou–Los Angeles service.
  • Major carrier China Eastern Airlines will launch Chengdu–Nanjing–Los Angeles service.

As airlines look to expand into second tier markets, Visit California China will develop co-op promotions with major airline partners to support additional services and drive significant incremental business to California from new gateway markets.


Trip Information and Booking Sources** (2013)

  Travel Information Air Travel Booking Methods
Travel Agencies 12.6% 21.2%
Airlines Direct 34.6% 23.3%
Tour Operators 8.1% 15.8%
Personal Computer/OTA 24.1% 30.0%
Corporate Travel Office 15.9% 17.6%
Personal Recommendation 27.6% n.a.
Travel Guide 14.0% n.a.


>** multiple sources

Travel Trends

  • China is expected to overtake the United States as the No. 1 business travel market in the world in 2016 and generate 20 percent of global business travel spending.
  • The Chinese traveler’s is rapidly evolving with growth in the FIT and semi-FIT markets. The changing profile of Chinese group travelers is expected to continue to take shape over the coming several years.
  • Leisure travel has soared to 63 percent of China’s total outbound travel market while government travel is decreasing as a result of the central government’s anti-corruption policy, which is limiting official overseas travel.
  • Package tours still account for 70 percent of leisure travel and, as the core business of Chinese travel agencies, are expected to dominate for the next decade, though the percentage of FIT and semi-FIT travel will continue to soar.
  • Due to the new U.S. visa policy and the rapidly developing sophistication of Chinese travelers, the shift away from package tours is accelerating as Chinese long-haul travelers embrace fly-and-drive FIT products, which have shown a remarkable year-on-year increase of 30 percent.
  • The demographic of Chinese outbound travelers is also rapidly changing. Younger travelers, ages 24 to 40, are choosing long-haul destinations, with 82 percent of such travelers holding undergraduate degrees. The exploding market segment accounts for 75 percent of China’s FIT market and 73 percent of its luxury market. Fifty-five percent of Chinese travelers are likely to spend seven to 13 nights in the United States on their next trip. Thirty-three percent are likely to spend 14 to 20 nights in the United States.
  • In terms of seasonality, 29 percent of Chinese travelers to the United States choose October, 23 percent opt for August, 22 percent select July and 18 percent prefer May. These trends also are reflected in airline bookings. The booking window for Chinese travelers buying pre-packaged holidays and guided tour packages is still very close to departure. Twenty-eight percent are most likely to make their booking just one or two weeks before departure, 25 percent will book three to four weeks before departure and 23 percent book one to two months out.
  • Among Chinese destination selection drivers, affordability (61 percent), quality of food (58 percent) and safety (57 percent) are the top three desired attributes. Preferred activities for Chinese visiting the U.S. rank in order from shopping (85 percent) to sightseeing (78 percent), fine dining (48 percent), natural parks (37 percent) and amusement/theme parks (34 percent).

Market Strategies


  • The key communication strategy for Visit California in the China market is to position California as the leading travel destination in the United States. for Chinese travellers. The messaging has included generating California and beyond-the-gateway coverage across all platforms and media channels.
  • Consumer-focused marketing efforts have expanded by leveraging tourism celebrity ambassador Gao Yuanyuan and California’s Dream Big messaging pillars in all communications.
  • Strengthening and extending relationships with Chinese online and traditional media outlets, adopting an integrated strategy linked to Visit California China’s branding efforts, securing extensive unpaid editorial coverage in online and offline media channels.
  • Travel trade strategy capitalizing on the Dream Big direct-to-consumer campaign by building on a strong call-to-action through partner Chinese travel trade distribution channels.
  • Visit California has strengthened and increased travel trade education using online and offline tools to continue to improve the quality of California product without losing focus on holding and building market share.
  • Consolidating trade relationships through joint promotions and investment with select Chinese travel trade operators and leveraged new airlift opportunities with U.S. and Chinese carriers to increase air capacity from China to California.


  • Continued investment in China to stave off market share erosion, with media investment bolstered to allow for the addition of out-of-home marketing in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.
  • High-impact, custom units will be used to allow messaging to stand out.
  • To support travel planning around the National Day/Golden Week holiday in October, spot television will be scheduled late spring into summer in Tier 1 cities, with significantly more 15-second spots in rotation than in other markets to increase frequency and boost awareness levels. Online TV will complement the terrestrial TV buy and allow for support to extend into Tier 2 cities. Digital media support, including an emphasis on social media – a critical channel in China – will be implemented year-round to sustain presence and continue to drive engagement with California content.
  • Capitalize on the positive outcomes of the new 10-year U.S. visa policy to highlight the variety of California itineraries to travel trade partners and ensure the rapid development of new California tour product.
  • Increasingly promote fly-and-drive experiences and increase FIT and semi-FIT package development to cover both gateways and other destinations. Focus on building stronger partnerships with airlines eager to promote their new airlift to California by developing joint promotions, joint agent training programs and FAMs. Linked to this strategy will be accessing as many airline promotional channels as possible to deliver California destination messages.
  • The Dream Big consumer campaign will become the basis for a series of powerful trade co-ops with a strong call-to-action to convert demand generated by the campaign into bookings.
  • Host training programs and seminars in collaboration with airline partners moving into second tier markets such as Chengdu and West China to stimulate new growth sectors for California.
  • Upgrade connections with key travel trade distributors by offering high-end FAMs, arranging California Advisory Board meetings, and initiating value-added joint promotions.
  • Develop ongoing PR activities to raise awareness of the experience pillars and Dream Big positioning. Continue to generate extensive high-value ROI California and “beyond-the-gateway” media coverage across all platforms and capitalize on the power of celebrities and key opinion leaders in the China market.
  • Strengthen relationships with Chinese traditional and social media outlets through PR teams in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. 

2015/2016 Plan Highlights

Consumer, trade and PR plan highlights in the expanded budget environment will include:

  • Continuing to localize the Dream Big messaging through features in all appropriate consumer media, including social media platforms, and through PR initiatives.
  • Developing a celebrity and opinion leader projects aligned with the California lifestyle and Dream Big initiative to rapidly boost nationwide media coverage and generate visibility among sophisticated travelers.
  • Leverage national and influential media channels to inspire consumers to travel to California to make their dreams come true.
  • Arrange media in key cities to visit beyond-the-gateway destinations to sample high-quality travel experiences.
  • Organize secondary market media FAMs targeting both leisure and MICE segments to visit beyond-the-gateway destinations across the state.
  • Leverage launch of Visit California’s new Chinese-language website to ensure online education reaches a wider range of Chinese stakeholders.
  • Partner with leading tour operators on joint promotions to support the online and offline consumer campaigns to stimulate travel to California.
  • Expand consumer reach through the California Flagship Agency program by featuring high-quality, California-style partner outlets to sway destination selection.
  • Partner with airlines, especially Chinese carriers, to distribute Visit California Dream Big content packages through their owned media, ranging from in-flight videos, magazines, pre-purchased TV, digital media and out-of-home channels.
  • Launch the California Advisory Board program to facilitate top-level dialogue among California stakeholders, Visit California and the Chinese travel trade elite.

Familiarity & Interest of California Areas

  Like to Visit Like to Learn More About It I'm Not Interested
Central Coast 75% 37% 3%
San Francisco Bay Area 74% 39% 3%
North Coast 7% 42% 3%
Los Angeles County 70% 43% 4%
Central Valley 69% 42% 5%
San Diego County 69% 42% 4%
Inland Empire 56% 54% 7%
High Sierra 55% 50% 7%
Gold Country 53% 54% 7%
Deserts 50% 56% 10%
Orange County 47% 53% 11%
Shasta Cascade 46% 53% 12%

Source: Hall & Partners, August 2012

Top 10 Motivating California Features

Disneyland 39%
Hollywood 36%
Universal Studios Hollywood 32%
Los Angeles 30%
Beaches 28%
Seaworld 26%
Golden Gate Bridge 25%
California Redwoods 25%
San Francisco 24%
Highway 1/California Coastline 23%

Source: Hall & Partners, August 2012


China HQ

Michael Merner
Managing Director
James Huang
China Director

Shanghai Office

Tina Yao
Shanghai Team Director
Jane Dong
Public Relations Director
Vincent Pan
Travel Trade Manager
Annie Wang
Content Manager
Aviareps Marketing Garden, Ltd.
Phone: 86 21 6888 1511 

Beijing Office

Cynthia Zhou
Beijing Team Director
Kevin He
Travel Trade Manager
Gabriel Cai
Public Relations Director
Adia Yin
Public Relations Manager
Aviareps Marketing Garden, Ltd.
Phone: 86 10 8532 1763

Taipei Office

Milane Tsai
Taipei Team Director
Vylet Wang
Travel Trade Manager

Chengdu Office

Tiara Jiang
Travel Trade Manager


Thank you to our Golden State Sponsors:
MeringCarson Time Inc