by Robert Stanton
HOUSTON, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- The Christmas Holiday Season is full swing on the Texas Gulf Coast, as residents decorate their homes with festive lights and retailers entice passersby with exciting sales.
For a real slice of the holiday spirit, head to Galveston, Texas, near Houston. It's one of the oldest cities in the state, with pristine beaches, Victorian-era homes and a festive downtown shopping district.
"Galveston has almost an Old-World charm, and it is very accommodating to people that are visiting town," said Roger Fairbrother, of Austin, who took his family to visit the island during the holidays. "It's an interesting town."
Fairbrother is not alone in his attraction to Galveston, which was known as the "Wall Street of the Southwest" in the 19th Century because of its preeminence as a commercial center for the state.
Last year, more than 6.5 million travelers visited Galveston, spending 780 million U.S. dollars and generating a 1.1 billion dollars impact to the local economy, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau (Galveston CVB).
"Galveston has continued to develop new reasons for travelers to visit almost on a yearly basis," said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of Galveston CVB. "More and more people are discovering that Galveston is much more than a beach destination, from our many unique attractions and historic sites to our vibrant culinary, arts and entertainment scenes."
Meanwhile, many tourists are taking to the seas on cruise ships, embarking on voyages to Mexico and the Caribbean, and beyond.
As a well-known port city in America, Galveston plans several new cruise ships and schedules in 2018, including the addition of a second Royal Caribbean ship as well as the newest ship in the Carnival Cruise Line fleet.
The Port of Galveston is Texas' only cruise port and the premier cruise port in the Gulf of Mexico. It also ranks as the fourth-busiest cruise port in North America and one of the top 10 cruise homeports in the world.
Cruise volume has grown substantially since 2014, with Asian passengers representing a growing part of the mix. The Port of Galveston embarked 868,923 passengers in 2016, an increase in embarkations of 35.4 percent over 2014, according to port officials.
With the beginning of the Christmas holiday season, Galveston is laying out the red carpet by offering fun-filled activities for visitors young and old. One of the biggest holiday events is Dickens on The Strand, which kicks off the first weekend in December.
The annual Dickens on the Strand holiday street festival, based on 19th-century Victorian London, features parades, non-stop entertainment on six stages, strolling carolers, roving musicians, bagpipers, jugglers and other entertainers.
"Over the past few years, we've seen increasing numbers from demographics," said Will Wright, spokesman for Galveston Historical Foundation, sponsor of Dickens on the Strand. "Hispanic guests, as well as those from Asian countries, are steadily growing annually."
At Moody Gardens in Galveston, a team from China's Harbin, the capital city of northeast Heilongjiang Province, displayed their carving majesty at one of Texas' biggest holiday festivals.
The 25 ice carvers sculpted 138 kg blocks of colored ice into whimsical monkeys, butterflies, orchids and more to create "Ice Land: Rainforest Holiday" for holiday makers.
Chinese people came to Houston area not only for working, they are also consumers.
Local hotels, like the upscale St. Regis Houston, make a special effort to accommodate the growing number of Asian visitors. There are room door hangars written in Chinese character, where guests can order comfort food in their style.
What's more, the hotel 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 provide toiletries for guests.
Chinese tourists recently became the biggest international shoppers at The Galleria, Houston's premiere upscale indoor mall. Stores are even hiring Mandarin-speaking sales staff to cater to them.
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.
In fact, more Chinese tourists are visiting Texas and the United States in 2017, leaving a positive economic impact wherever they go.
Chinese tourists are soon expected to become the largest group of overseas visitors (not including Mexico and Canada) to the United States. And American cities like Houston are trying to cash in, according to Attract China, a New York based company that focuses on outbound Chinese tourism to North America.
David Becker, CEO of Attract China, told Xinhua that the number of Chinese visitors to the United States has been keeping growth, and their contribution to the U.S. economy is expected to hit 85 billion U.S. dollars by 2021.
According to a report released in August by the U.S. Commerce Department, 2.97 million Chinese tourists traveled to the United States in 2016, spending a total of 33 billion dollars. The figures are up 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively, from 2015.
The report showed that Chinese visitor arrivals ranked fifth, trailing Canada, Mexico, UK and Japan, and China ranked seventh in terms of total tourism-related spending in the United States.
Travel and tourism exports account for 61 percent of all U.S. services exports to China, according to the report, compiled by the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) under the International Trade Administration of the Commerce department.
Tourism was the largest service export for the United States in 2016, accounting for 33 percent of services exports and 11 percent of exports overall.