In 2016, the United States welcomed 3 million Chinese visitors and the U.S. Department of Commerce has forecast that this figure will grow by 15 percent and reach 3.457 million in 2017

To better prepare for this influx of Chinese visitors, destinations are working closely with their local partners to educate them on the behavior of Chinese travelers. Destinations are educating, training and offering certification programs to better serve this group of visitors to ensure they feel welcomed.    

Jing Travel spoke to Elliott Ferguson, President and CEO of Destination DC, to learn more about its Welcome (欢迎) China program.

Can you give us an overview of Destination DC’s Welcome () China Program?

Destination DC launched the Welcome China program in September 2016 with the goal of making the city’s #1 overseas visitor market feel more welcome as the market continues to grow. In 2015, DC welcomed 300,000 Chinese visitors, a 36 percent increase over the previous year. One out of every nine Chinese visitors to the U.S. came to DC, and according to IHS Global, DC is forecasted to receive more than 500,000 Chinese visitors by 2020 (up more than 60% from 2015).

How did the idea to launch a Welcome () China come about?

Americans traditionally lag behind what other international destinations provide for different cultures. We launched this program to ensure Chinese visitors know where to find some of the comforts of home as they experience all there is to see and do in Washington, DC. Welcome (欢迎) China was designed to fuse Chinese customs into service offerings at hotels, tour operators, restaurants, attractions, retail, and transportation companies.

How can businesses participate in Welcome () China and be certified?

The requirements for certification vary based on the type of business, but may include offering in-language maps, brochures or menus; providing Chinese signage or subtitles, or having staff members who are fluent in Mandarin. We modeled our program by researching comparable programs in other cities and asking our clients about the most important benefits to offer.

How has social media played a part in the program?

As part of the launch, Destination DC partnered with WeChat for its first U.S. DMO partnership. The partnership has been incredibly successful, with the Washington, DC channel earning more than 10,000 followers. Through the partnership, WeChat extended an invitation to all Destination DC members to register for an official account and bypass the extensive registration process typically required by a U.S. company. Destination DC is also active on Weibo with about 3,000 followers.

How successful is this program and what is the next phase?

The feedback has been positive, but tour operators would like to see more participants. As we continue to raise the profile of Washington, DC for Chinese business and leisure travelers, Destination DC’s goal in the next phase of the program is to grow it substantially, recruiting more members, training and further promote the program so more members are ready to implement strategies to welcome Chinese visitors and customers are fully aware of the program. Destination DC currently has more than 20 member organizations that are certified, including Entertainment Cruises, Newseum, International Spy Museum, Four Seasons Hotel Georgetown and the Jefferson Washington, DC.

How is Destination DC promoting this program?

We promote the Welcome (欢迎) China program throughout all our sales missions and efforts in the Chinese market. The Destination DC tourism and communications teams visit China bi-annually and on our last visit, we visited nine cities to meet with business and MICE leaders, travel buyers and press. In addition to that, we also work closely with BrandStory offices in China to support our marketing and PR efforts with leisure and business audiences; and Destination DC is the first DMO to work directly with CCTV for on-air promotions and has a Chinese language promotional video. In June 2017, Washington, DC also hosted IPW, the U.S. Travel Association’s annual meeting for the first time and broke records for the highest Chinese tour operator attendance. During this time, Destination DC also hosted a special FAM tour for this group that included the Kennedy Center, VIP city boat tour and U.S. Capitol Building.

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