That was the message from Chinese tour operators speaking at the National Tour Association’s (NTA) China Market Forum in Hawaii last week.
“There were several common threads in what they said,” said NTA president Simon of the Chinese tour operators who attended the forum for the first time.
“One concerned limited air service outside the major gateways,” she said.
“They have good service to gateways but not to markets in the middle of the country like New Orleans and Chicago. The thing is their customers really want to go to these places.”
Concerns over quality also surfaced during the event.
“There seem to be issues on both sides,” Simon said. “When Chinese companies bring their own tour directors here, they don’t know the U.S. product.
“On our side, there may be domestic tour directors who know the language and customs but don’t know destinations outside their own bases.”
Major U .S. gateway cities like New York and San Francisco are ready for Chinese visitors in terms of language skills and understanding cultural nuances, she said.
“Smaller markets, however, are not ready,” said Simon.
“They don’t think they have to be prepared because Chinese visitors will not be arriving for several years but tour operators should at least be paying attention; at least try to figure out if they should be getting China-ready.”
A growing market
The numbers are reason enough for U.S. destinations and suppliers to pay attention.
Chinese visitation to the U.S. increased 41% in 2012, according to the federal Office of Travel & Tourism Industries (OTTI).
The fastest-growing U.S. inbound market, China is ranked as the nation’s eighth largest source of visitors and is projected to rank sixth by 2015.
Spending by Chinese travelers to the U.S. rose 19% in 2012, following 47% increases in both 2010 and 2011, the OTTI reported. Visitors to Hawai‘i from China are the highest spenders of any market, averaging $391.80 a day.
Visitation could climb even higher as a result of government regulatory changes in China.
Earlier this year, the Chinese government announced new initiatives for the development of the country’s travel industry.
Measures include adding paid holidays, increasing budgets on travel infrastructure, encouraging incentive and conference travel and providing more opportunities for student travel.
Simon said the government’s recent enactment of consumer protection laws regulating tour operators, should make for better customer experiences.