When one speaker last week asked an Active America China meeting room packed with travel suppliers for a report how many of them were attending their first AAC event, more than half of them raised their hands. Also, two-thirds of the attendees were from DMOs or tourism promotion offices, making clear some key realities about the market:
—There seems to be an almost inexhaustible supply of potential Chinese travelers who will be making long-haul trips to the USA in the foreseeable future, made possible by a steadily growing increase in the airlift between China and the United States.
—Further driving the increase is an official policy of the Chinese government is to encourage travel within and outside of the country in order to sustain its demand-driven economic growth
—The travel infrastructure is growing in dramatic numbers as more than 60 new airports are scheduled to be completed by 2021, raising the number of airports in mainland China from 206 to 272. This includes three in the major city of Shenzen (est. population is well over 10 million), just north of Hong Kong. More airports with more flights will increase connectivity to long-haul destinations.
“Crossing the River Alone” Midst an environment partially explained by the above, the buzz and back-and-forth at AAC, which was celebrating its 10th Anniversary in the city (Atlanta) where it was first staged, included some varied points of interest that INBOUND picked up during our conversations and coverage of the event:
—Out of nowhere, it seems, China is now a top market for many DMOs. Ron Kuhlman, vice president of tourism marketing and sales for the Virginia Beach CVB, told us that China is now the destination’s number three market, behind only Canada and the UK, but ahead of (in order) Germany, France and India. Interest in Virginia Beach began to kick into high gear about two years ago, added Kuhlman, who had been among the early pioneers in going after the market, positioning his destination as a place that arriving visitors could connect to from international flights and itineraries out of Washington Dulles Airport and other points of entry.
—The corps of red-shirted students and mostly young interns who did translating duties for the one-on-one business appointments at AAC were constantly busy—a reflection of the fact that, when it comes to the language barrier, many U.S. destinations still have work to do. For some, it has meant hiring Chinese-speaking staff or, at least, retaining someone on a regular basis to translate during sales calls and business meetings.
—Translating involves some perils, however, as one young man, who recently earned his MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (which has about 3,000 students from China) and is interning at the Georgia Department of Economic Development in Atlanta, said “it was like walking across a river alone” when he got his first call to interpret for a buyer and seller. He seemed to enjoy the challenge, as well as Atlanta, which he preferred to northern Illinois and its cold winters.
—Several other student interpreters told us that they were not prepared to translate such words as “product” in the tour and travel sense, indicating that the word “product,” to them, means something tangible—something that might one cut with a knife. Another word combination that confused them, at first, was “receptive tour operator.” (It should be noted that the expression is sometimes confusing to Americans within the industry itself.)
“Mama Jane”—Personal Relationships Still Matter: As one speaker said, “What does say about the nature of our industry that we have someone we call ‘Mama Jane”?” Indeed. A venerable figure in the tour and travel industry “Mama” Jane Chang, who is especially well-known in southern California and had experienced an unwanted leave from the industry, had only recently become global account director, Asian market specialist, Millennium Hotels and Resorts—based in Los Angeles. “So great to have you back, Mama Jane,” INBOUND heard one AAC delegate to Chang as they passed in the lobby of the Hilton Atlanta.