As Chinese tourism to the United States skyrockets, New York City’s convention and visitors bureau (CVB) is taking aggressive steps to win its slice of the booming business. NYC & Co, as the tourism bureau is called, recently named Starwood executive Watson Li to take over the job of luring Chinese convention business to the Big Apple.
A graduate of the prestigious Glion Hotel Management school in Switzerland, Li speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, and previously worked at Starwood’s Global Sales office in Guangzhou, China, and at The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou. While his title is Regional Director, International for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions & Exhibitions, he explains that his specific task is to convince potential visitors from Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East of “the benefits and excitement of hosting their next meeting in New York City.”
Jing Travel asked him about how the city is rolling out the red carpet for Chinese tourists in particular.
So, Chinese tourism to New York City is really taking off?
In 2016, we welcomed 951,000 Chinese visitors – a 315 percent increase over 2010. It’s now our second-largest source of overseas visitation. Chinese visitation plays an important role in the New York City tourism industry, and shows no sign of stopping.
How is the city specifically marketing to that boom?
We continue to invest in this key visitor market with dedicated Chinese-language social media channels, ongoing education sessions, and sales missions targeting both leisure and convention audiences in primary cities including Shanghai and Beijing, and developing markets like Guangzhou and Chengdu. In 2016, we signed a City-to-City Tourism Partnership with Shanghai, an ever-important market, targeting potential travelers to New York City.
Are you seeing new kinds of conference groups visiting from China?
There are five key sectors of growth and a sixth emerging: education (especially adult MBA groups), financial training, technology/artificial intelligence, medical exhibitions and incentive groups — banking, finance, direct-selling companies and more often reward their key staff with incentive trips to New York City. Lastly, entertainment group travel is a growing trend.
Why the “smart” and MBA travel boom?
Take into account the City’s numerous educational institutions and concentration of academic centers, and the entirety of the five boroughs becomes a living campus for MBA students, both inside and outside of the classroom. Events such as the Artificial Intelligence Summit and Robotics Conference, plus venues such as New York University’s AI Lab, make the destination increasingly attractive for Chinese group travelers focused on education, financial-skill enhancement, and technology development and studies.
What questions are you often asked about New York? Is there visitor resistance?
The questions that arise when coordinating with [convention] groups from China often concern hotel rates and expenses.
How do you address those concerns?
We help groups plan and book in advance and encourage planners to have flexibility when it comes to venue selection and timing. For example, we encourage planners to consider visiting during the first quarter, when hotel rates are slightly lower. We are also sure to highlight venues and activities that have dedicated themselves to being “China Ready,” to overcome potential cultural barriers.
Does the convention business spill over into cultural tourism?
Oftentimes, meeting planners and attendees from China choose to extend their business trips, allowing extra time for shopping, attractions, and cultural activities.
So, what and where do all these tourists from China like to eat? Does it break down by age?
Luxury dining experiences and steakhouses are of particular interest to Chinese delegates, while more casual dining experiences (such as Shake Shack and Magnolia Bakery) are on the bucket list for younger travelers who have grown up watching New York City in movies and television programs