NEW YORK, March 24 (Xinhua) -- California, the U.S. tourism-heavy state, is mounting a charm offensive for deep-pocketed Chinese tourists against the backdrop of a strong dollar and a travel ban that could shy away potential international tourists, said tourism professionals.
"It's a global message we're carrying out, and I think the Chinese market is first and foremost," Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California, told Xinhua recently. "We invite you, we welcome you, come and be bold to dream."
Beteta was on a marketing tour in New York to promote "California, All Dreams Welcome", a tourism promotion campaign of the Golden State, where the total direct travel spending in 2016 reached 126 billion U.S. dollars, directly supporting more than one million jobs.
"China is a very important economic contributor in that quotation, it's our fastest growing market," Beteta said, who has been to China over 20 times. She added that California has historical ties with China with the presence of Chinese immigrants early on during the state's early forming years.
Over the past decade, Chinese visitors to the U.S. have grown nearly 10-fold from 320,000 arrivals in 2006 to over three million in 2016, designated the "China-US Tourism Year."
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number is projected to grow to 5.7 million arrivals by 2021.
California currently attracts 45.5 percent of all Chinese visitors to the United States. That led to 1.3 million Chinese visitors spending 2.6 billion U.S. dollars in California in 2016, Beteta said.
California's tourism industry might experience slower-than-normal growth in 2017 due to lingering uncertainties over President Donald Trump, including his immigration policy, according to a recent report by the UCLA Anderson Forecast. The rising dollar would also make American services more expensive.
The newly revised travel ban that Trump signed early March blocks citizens of six Muslim-dominated countries from entering the country for 90 days. Tourism experts warned that international travelers from other nations would watch the news and think that they, too, are not welcome in the United States.
"In California we live and kind of think to a different beat in philosophy and (from) a different vision of culture, because we are so multicultural in California. We just want to reinforce that message (of) all dreams being welcome," Beteta said.
It is "too early to tell," she said in the UCLA report. "But I can almost assuredly say with a great amount of confidence that the Chinese market will continue to grow at a double-digit rate for the next couple of years."
"By 2020, it will be our largest international market," Beteta said. "It's neck and neck with Canada now, but it's growing at double-digit rates and we will see about two million Chinese visitors by 2020, spending over three billion dollars."
Driven by a rapidly growing middle class, the number of Chinese outbound tourists is expected to reach 150 million in 2020 from 122 million in 2016, with an estimated average annual growth rate of 5.09 percent, according to China National Tourism Administration.
Beteta said Visit California is making multidimensional promotional plans to get a big share of the critical China market. It plans to spend 9.8 million dollars in the current fiscal year to welcome Chinese visitors.
Furthermore, it has taken innovative approaches to reach Chinese consumers, including partnerships with Chinese celebrities like Jay Chou and Sun Nan, localized video content on China's video streaming site Youku and co-branded television spots with China Southern Airlines and online tour operator Tuniu.
Talking about broader China-U.S. trade and people-to-people relations, Beteta told Xinhua: "I'm just ever hopeful that the relationship and the trade status, as it relates to the tourism industry, stay intact, because it's been very, very fruitful for both countries and for our state."
"The bilateral trade with regard to tourism actually helps balance the trade deficit the U.S. has with China," she said.
Currently 124 non-stop, weekly flights arrive in California from 11 Chinese cities with a capacity of 36,955 seats. Both United Airlines and Hainan Airlines launched new routes in 2016.
"Every day we're working to, frankly, educate our own industry about the particulars, the protocols on how to better service Chinese tourists, so we call it China Ready and we are constantly working with communities throughout California to hopefully enhance the visitor experience of (the) Chinese,"
Over the past two years, Visit California has managed 17 "China Ready" seminars in partnership with Union Pay International. Over 1,800 tourism industry professionals across the state have taken the two-hour seminar, which helps prepare them to welcome Chinese visitors.
"We're trying to carry out the loveliness of the Chinese culture and the California culture and encouraging that connection," said Beteta.