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Chinese Trade FAM in a hot air balloon
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Rebuilding the market for Chinese travelers

By Leona Reed 06/04/2024

Visit California is dedicated to re-establishing its presence in the Chinese market, investing $7.7 million overall in FY23/24. Recent activities underscore this commitment, including the U.S.–China Tourism Leadership Summit in Xi’an, ITB China in Shanghai and the first Chinese trade FAM in California since 2019.

U.S–China Tourism Leadership Summit highlights

Visit California recently attended the 14th U.S.– China Tourism Leadership Summit in Xi’an. This summit marked a significant milestone in bilateral relations, the first since 2019, drawing over 600 attendees — 200 from the U.S. and 400 from China. This turnout exceeded the 2019 summit numbers, highlighting the importance both nations place on revitalizing tourism ties.

Julie Coker, Visit California’s Board Vice Chair and President & CEO of San Diego Tourism Authority, represented Visit California at the summit, accompanied by Shawn Dixon, COO of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Brand USA, Destination DC, Disneyland Resorts, Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (LATCB), Travel Oregon and other DMOs were also present. Highlighting the organization's commitment, Vice Chair Coker signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Zuzuche, China's largest car rental company. This agreement aims to make California the preferred U.S. destination for Chinese tourists. Vice Chair Coker also conducted three key media interviews with CGTN, Global Times and Xinhua News Agency, emphasizing Visit California’s initiatives in market and bolstering ties with the Chinese tourism industry.

Julie Coker with Ben Lee Chairman of Zuzuche

Key discussion points at the summit were the ongoing issues with visa wait times and flight availability. In response, the U.S. announced the opening of a new visa appointment center in Wuhan, a first for the city. Furthermore, the U.S. embassy is working with Chinese authorities to gain clearance and hire more local staff to support visa operations, aiming to alleviate the challenges over the past three years. The expectation from both sides is clear: there will be notable improvements in visa processing and flight availability following the summit.

Showcasing California at ITB 2024

Visit California recently attended ITB China 2024 at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center from May 27–29. This three-day event attracted over 15,000 attendees from over 80 countries and regions. With five California partners, Visit California conducted over 150 pre-scheduled appointments and had over 200 walk-in appointments. The partners include CG Hotel Group, Disneyland Resorts, LATCB, San Francisco Travel and Visit Greater Palm Springs.

Adam Burke at ITB China

Following the Leadership Summit in Xi’an, it was no surprise that the main topics of discussion were the improvement in visa processing times and the reopening of the Wuhan Consulate’s visa office. While this is a step in the right direction, the overall low visa issuance rate and the high cost of travel remain significant barriers. In response, Visit California found that agencies and operators are concentrating on small and customized tours, a growth of demand in high-end luxury trips and for the first-tier cities to spearhead promotion and sale of California to second- and third-tier cities.

First trade FAM since 2019

From May 8th to 12th, Visit California hosted nine key Chinese buyers in the first trade FAM from the Chinese market since 2019. Over the five days, the group explored Los Angeles, Greater Palm Springs, Temecula and Anaheim, experiencing the latest and greatest they have to offer.

Participants enjoyed diverse experiences, from luxury outings and family fun to outdoor activities and local adventures, inspiring future product development. This FAM is a positive step toward creating and refreshing California only product in market.

Chinese Trade FAM at an Anaheim Angels game

The road ahead

Ensuring California remains top of mind is crucial as projections indicate that spending from the Chinese market will rebound to $2.17 billion in 2024 and fully recover to pre-pandemic levels by 2025. To ensure this happens, Visit California is positioning itself as a top destination to visit in this highly competitive market with its $7.5M total investment for fiscal year 24/25, including $6.1M for a direct-to-consumer campaign. The Tourism Leadership Summit, ITB 2024 and Post-IPW FAM have helped set a positive tone for future travel to California and the opportunities ahead.

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