With China now the world’s most important tourist source market, U.S. cities and states need to be able to reach out to Chinese tourists to cultivate and maintain their brands abroad. However, most states have done quite poorly so far in this endeavor while others are embracing Chinese web and social media resources.

Chinese tourists are increasingly independent travelers, with more and more opting to plan their own vacations abroad

Essential to understand about Chinese tourists is that they are increasingly independent travelers, with more and more shunning tour groups, and instead opting to plan their own vacations abroad. Furthermore, they are increasingly mobile, meaning that making sites both mobile and Wechat-friendly, China’s largest messaging and social app, imperative. If information is not easily consumable in Chinese on a mobile device, Chinese tourists may never read it.

So which state is doing the best to engage with Chinese tourists? The easy answer is Hawaii’s tourism board, Hawai’i Tourism Authority. Gohawaii.com is perhaps the best effort by a U.S. state to reach out to Chinese tourists. The website is mobile friendly, and it is easy to switch to Chinese language.

Moreover, the website has a scannable WeChat QR code on its front page to connect directly with Chinese travelers and provide news and travel content through its WeChat account “hawaiitourism” or “夏威夷州旅游观光局.” The account frequently posts articles about various activities, culinary offerings, and cultural experiences that Hawaii has on offer.

Of course, Hawaii’s digital marketing isn’t limited to websites and WeChat accounts. Hawai’i Tourism Authority worked with Hawaii Tourism China (HTC) to launch an impressive social media-oriented campaign with Chinese and Taiwanese KOLs.

Washington DC is another destination that has made substantial strides in promoting itself as a destination for Chinese tourists through Destination DC, and in November the city even launched a new CityExperience WeChat mini program guide.

Many major U.S. destinations have little or no Chinese language presence online

Many other major U.S. destinations for Chinese tourists have no websites with Chinese content or presence on Chinese social media. For example, the official website for Las Vegas, visitlasvegas.com, has absolutely no Chinese language support.

The official website for the state of Nevada, travelnevada.com, also has no Chinese language support. Las Vegas is an increasingly popular destination for Chinese tourists looking to enjoy the cities entertainment gambling venues, but a proper online presence could help in attracting even more visitors.

Other states struggling to connect with Chinese tourists online are New York, Colorado, and California. New York City’s official tourist site, nycgo.com, has no Chinese language support. The state’s official tourist website, iloveny.com, has an option to use the website in Chinese. However, it seems to be nothing more than a Google Translate rendering of the page. Google services are unusable in China.

To make matters worse, it defaults the translation to traditional characters, which are not used in China but instead in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Colorado on the other hand has an excellent Chinese language guide on its official travel website, colorado.com. However, the guide itself is only available as a digital guidebook viewable in browsers, which is difficult to use on mobile and is three years old.

California’s efforts to engage with Chinese tourists are mixed, but still better than Nevada, New York, and Colorado. Visitcalifornia.com is a well-designed website with Chinese language content. Moreover, it is easy to use on mobile devices.

However, the website has no Wechat interface, and no Wechat account is associated with visitcalifornia.com. Instead, they have added the option to share links and content on Weibo, China’s largest microblogging site. While this is certainly better than nothing, Weibo’s popularity has declined substantially in recent years, almost completely eclipsed by Wechat.

Some cities, like Palm Springs, have recognized the need to engage with Chinese tourists on WeChat even if the state as a whole has not.

The real question here is whether well-planned and implemented social media and online marketing drives Chinese tourism to U.S. destinations. In the short-term, the answer is probably no, but the costs of utilizing Wechat and having some social media presence are not astronomical. The cost of having a competently translated and implemented Chinese language version of a website is also relatively low.

In the long-term, an online Chinese language presence is key for driving interest in destinations

Fundamentally, having a strong Chinese language resource, whether a website or Wechat account, can help complement efforts to promote destinations. Establishing a competent information resource for Chinese travelers to use if their interest in a destination is piqued through other marketing efforts, can help seal the deal and help a destination cultivate its brand image. In the long-term, such efforts will undoubtedly help drive interest in even smaller destinations.

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