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Boston wants more Chinese

By AMY HE in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-02-01 12:12

Like many US cities, Boston is trying to increase the number of Chinese who visit, but the city is trying to take advantage of its reputation as a college city to try to entice more Chinese students to go study there, and inevitably bring along their friends and families to visit as well.

Visitors who go to Boston for education-related reasons make up the majority of Chinese tourists in the area, and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) is trying to ramp up its efforts to keep increasing that market, said Patrick Moscaritolo, the bureau's president and CEO.

"When you drill down into the number, it's more than just Chinese students at our colleges and universities in Boston and Cambridge," he said, "it's also now turning out to be Chinese students at secondary schools, Chinese visitors that are coming for summer camps."

Besides the students, Boston wants to rope in their parents as well. Parents who drop off their children at summer camps, for example, might spend the week exploring Boston and the rest of Massachusetts, or travel up into New England and other parts of the northeast, before returning to pick up their children and heading back to China.

"Education is such a major part of what Boston and Cambridge offer. Another way to put it, to look at it from a marketing perspective, it is really the underpinning of the Boston and Cambridge brand, as it relates to Chinese visitors," he said.

About a quarter of Chinese visitors going to Boston go for education purposes, according to 2015 figures published by the US Department of Commerce. More recent figures are not officially available yet, but Moscaritolo estimates that the number has grown to approximately 28 percent for 2017.

The education category that visitors check off on their surveys can mean attending college in the Boston area, attending secondary schools and academies, short summer education programs, or corporate training programs, he said.

There are roughly 20,000 Chinese students attending school in Boston, with the city seeing double-digit growth in the last decade.

Boston gets roughly 209,000 Chinese visitors, which is just outranked by the 215,000 people who visit from the United Kingdom. It has set a goal of 500,000 visitors by 2021, which Moscaritolo said he expects the city can accomplish.

GBCVB held China-friendly seminars for participating member organizations and retailers in December, and is working to partner with colleges and other education institutions to strengthen its Chinese programs.

"Colleges and universities are such drivers of Chinese visitors [so] part of our plan is to build programs with the colleges and universities, and within the colleges and universities with the Chinese student associations, to better serve them, to better serve incoming freshman classes," he said.

"Because obviously not only the student comes, and she or he spends money while they're at our colleges, but many times their family members, their parents come, or maybe their parents and their grandparents - that's all potential new opportunities for business," he said.

Boston also has a regular stream of direct flights flying to Beijing and Shanghai: it currently has daily flights to Beijing and Hong Kong, and a four-times-a-week flight to Shanghai.

Moscaritolo said if they were able to expand the Shanghai service to daily flights it could be a "very successful service", but the current US-China bilateral treaty on aviation and transportation caps the number of direct flights between Tier 1 Chinese cities and American cities.

"I understand why the treaty has the limits - because there's a priority to open non-stop service between secondary cities to the US and I can understand from an economic development strategy why you would want to do that," he said, "but there may be ways to either renegotiate the treaty or mend the treaty so that we can get the additional flights from Shanghai to Boston."

If the treaty is mended Moscaritolo said the 500,000 visitor figure could be reached before 2021.

Contact the writer at amyhe@chinadailyusa.com

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