World / Reporter's Journal

San Francisco Chinese tourists’ favorite US destination

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-03-29 05:02

American airports and the growth of their international traffic made headlines last week. A new report from the International Trade Administration (ITA) indicated that last year San Francisco International Airport (SFO) had the highest rate of international visitors of any American gateway.

ITA data showed that approximately 209 million passengers traveled to and from the US in 2015. Among them, traffic between the US and China increased by 25 percent.

SFO witnessed a 9 percent increase in international travelers, overshadowing other major gateway airports such as New York's JFK, Chicago's O'Hare, and Miami and Los Angeles international.

San Francisco Chinese tourists’ favorite US destination

SFO director John Martin said that the international traffic growth "highlights the success of our efforts, which include improved facilities, a keen eye on cost control, and an unwavering commitment to the guest experience."

The airport has a 10-year capital facelift plan that includes terminal renovations, new amenities and a new hotel. Some high-end restaurants recently signed lease agreements to start operations in SFO international terminals.

Last year, SFO added several new airlines and launched new international flights, including daily direct flights to Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong province, in June by China Southern Airlines, the third-largest airline in the world by passenger volume.

In 2014, SFO became the first American airport with a Chinese-language website featuring real-time tracking of arrivals and departures, information about shopping, restaurants, services and public transportation around the Bay Area.

International visits to the Bay Area have increased by 21 percent in the past four years, and the number of visitors is expected to grow another 19 percent in the next two years. The influx of international visitors has bolstered the local economy, especially the tourism and service industries.

The largest industry category in San Francisco, tourism creates and retains 87,000 jobs, according to the San Francisco Travel Association. Chinese visitors are leading the market by spending roughly $813 million in 2015, dwarfing their counterparts from any other foreign countries in San Francisco.

Chinese tourism in America seems to be booming. "I think that tourism from China is increasing at tremendous rates," said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. "It's keeping our Chinese Consulate very busy, our US Embassy very busy in processing visas. Chinese visitors are not coming in by the ones and twos; they're coming in groups of 20, 50, and 100 at a time."

California tourism agencies are making continuous and consistent efforts to help industry practitioners and businesses better serve Chinese visitors to the Golden State. Visit California, the state's tourism association, and SFTravel have sponsored a series of seminars called "China Ready" to help business understand the Chinese culture and consumption habits of Chinese visitors.

To recruit Mandarin-speaking staff and offer Chinese cuisine and amenities (such as hot water for tea) that Chinese visitors are accustomed to, tourism industry workers in San Francisco need to keep learning, said Antonette Eckert, director of international tourism for the Asia-Pacific market at the San Francisco Travel Association, which recently launched websites in traditional and simplified Chinese in partnership with Brand USA.

Helen Han, who owns a travel agency in San Francisco, said she always asks her employees to show respect to the elderly and take good care of the minors in a tourist groups, "as this is part of the Chinese culture, and it can quickly help build a rapport with the group."

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