David Becker On Asian Outbound Tourists Expectations
Houston rolls out red carpet for Asian tourists By Robert Stanton
HOUSTON, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) — Houston businesses are rolling out the red carpet for Asian tourists who arrive in America’ s fourth largest city for a slice of authentic Texas life.
“They are looking for that classic Texas experience – the cowboy roping a calf, the horse riding and seeing a giant Texas longhorn,” said Jennifer Farrell, director of marketing at the George Ranch Historical Park and its working ranch. “Heritage tourism is a big thing.”
The 23,000-plus acre George Ranch, located in adjacent Fort Bend County, traces its history to 1824 when Texas was still part of Mexico. Last year, the heritage park hosted 56,000 visitors, many of them Asians, Farrell said.
Indeed, Chinese tourists are soon expected to become the largest group of overseas visitors (not including Mexico and Canada) to the U.S. And American cities like Houston are trying to cash in, according to Attract China.
David Becker, CEO of Attract China, said that the number of Chinese visitors to the U.S. each year is approaching 2.5 million, and their contribution to the U.S. economy is expected to hit 85 billion U.S. dollars by 2021.
“Houston really provides both a contemporary and American vacation,” Becker said. “You have both urban and country living. You can have barbecue and steak.
A grass-fed, corn finished steak is not an experience that most Chinese have. Most get their meat from dairy cows and the portions are quite small.”
In Houston, Becker said, “they can do the classic American experience. The countryside, wide-open spaces are amazing, as well as the expanding urban landscape.”
Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming has played a huge role in attracting Asian tourists to the city. Although he retired in 2011, Yao’s footprint in Houston remains large and his legacy endures.
Leo Yao, an Asia Pacific representative at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that Asian tourists usually have a clear idea of what they want in a Houston visit.
“Asians enjoy shopping, and they shop at The Galleria and in the River Oaks District,” two of Houston’s high-end shopping areas. “They also like to shop at Walmart and Walgreens, where they enjoy buying all the cosmetics and vitamins and things like that.”
The Galleria is the fourth-largest mall in the U.S. with 400 stores and two hotels, while the River Oaks District is home to luxury stores that include Cartier, Dior and Hermes,among others.
Helping to boost the number of Asian tourists to Houston is the growing number of airlines servicing Asia, including United Airlines and ANA (All Nippon Airways).
“Before 2008, we had only Continental Airline flying between Tokyo and Houston,” said Yao, of the Houston Convention &Visitors Bureau. “Today we have United and ANA Air. We have so many Asian airlines flying into Houston and they bring the tourism. It benefits Houston and it benefits Asians.”
Local hotels, like the upscale St. Regis Houston, make a special effort to accommodate the growing number of Asian visitors, said Matthew Vesely, the hotel’s director of marketing and sales.
“We have room door hangars written in Chinese character, where they can order comfort food in their style,” Vesely said. “We also put their slippers next to the bed right away; we don’ t wait for turn down service to do that. They like to wear slippers in their room all the time.
What’s more, St. Regis places tea kettles and green tea in the rooms of Asian visitors, and for Chinese visitors the hotel provides a toothbrush, comb and razor blades because many hotels in China do not provide toiletries for guests.
“We want to make them feel comfortable when they arrive,” Vesely said.
Before a Chinese delegation arrives, Vesely said that the hotel staff removes white flowers from the lobby area because the color white symbolizes bereavement, back luck and failure in the Chinese culture.
Asian visitors to Houston typically have a large disposable income and are ready to put that buying power to use, Vesely said.
“When they come here, it’s all shopping, shopping, shopping,” he said. “They might be able to buy the same goods in China, like Cartier. “But the taxes are cheaper here and there’s more selection.”
In fact, international tourists can take their receipts to the tax-free office at The Galleria, which will refund their taxes. Some Asian visitors will take that refund to use for more shopping.
Chinese tourists recently became the Galleria’s biggest foreign shoppers, and stores are hiring Mandarin-speaking sales staff to cater to them.
Leo Yao, one of the Asia Pacific reps at Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that Chinese tourists are discriminating about what they want to do and see in Houston.
“When you create an itinerary for a Chinese visitor, if you tell them we’re going to a museum, they will always tell you no,” Yao said. “However, if you say we have the Houston Museum of Natural Science with a dinosaur park, they realize we have a special museum. Many will stay to see the Egyptian exhibit as well.”