California mall 'China Ready' for tourist dollars

Updated: 2015-05-05 11:46

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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California mall 'China Ready' for tourist dollars

Two girls from China pose before the store of Burberry, a favored brand by Chinese, at Santa Monica Place, a three-storyed outdoor shopping mall in Santa Monica, California, late last month.The shopping aims to become a magnet for Chinese tourists by offering special amenities such as Chinese translated maps and discount books as well as Chinese interpretation service. Provided to China Daily.

A shopping mall in Santa Monica, California, hopes to become a magnet for Chinese tourists with its recent recognition as "China Ready".

Santa Monica Place, a shopping center two blocks from the beach at the south end of the famous Third Street Promenade, received the designation from the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, which launched the "China Ready" program last year. China Ready helps businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and cultural sites draw Chinese vacationers.

"We find it important to become more attuned to this market by learning their needs and opening up and expanding the existing amenities to accommodate their needs," said Shoshana Puccia, senior marketing manager of Santa Monica Place, which reopened in 2010 after a massive renovation.

According to a mall survey in 2010, only 5 percent of the visitors to Santa Monica Place were international. In 2014, the number had increased to 61 percent.

"And 10 percent of the international travelers were from China," said Puccia.

Twelve million shoppers a year visit Santa Monica Place. "When it comes to visitors and their spending, 10 percent is a large number," she said. "We want to attract that market."

Puccia's team signed on to the "China Ready" program last year and attended seminars every month for a year. To be designated as "China Ready", they also needed to launch an informational Web page in Chinese, with Chinese translations of maps and guidebooks, and accept China UnionPay, a bank card favored by Chinese tourists.

"I find it's very important culturally to understand the differences and work with a specific culture," Puccia said. "The China Ready program speaks to everyone in the program about how business is done the Chinese way and how we can adapt where we need to."

She said one of the big things the staff learned from the program was to engage all the retailers about accepting UnionPay.

"Some of them [retailers] only added it [UnionPay] last year, and some of them are still adding it," she said. "So far, 75 percent of our retailers take China Union Pay."

Another barrier is the language, according to Puccia.

"There are multi generations of travelers," she said. "We find the older generations don't speak English as well as the younger generations. Travelers (from) China are highly likely to buy luxury brands here in the US versus in China."

At Santa Monica Pace, Chinese-speaking sales associates are available at retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Coach, Kate Spade, Tory Burch and Burberry, popular brands that Chinese tourists are fond of, according to Puccia.

Daniel Shen, the agent who promotes Santa Monica Place in China, said 70 percent of Chinese travelers' spending went to shopping and only 30 percent was used on lodging and sightseeing, citing a survey his company did recently.

"Last year, over 100 million Chinese people traveled abroad," said Shen, president of East West Marketing Corp., who also represents Macy's and Kay Jewelers in China. "That's why the US businesses value the Chinese market so much."

Compared with the developed markets like Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore, the Chinese mainland market was still immature, Shen said. But it has achieved rapid growth in the past seven years since China opened its market to the US travel and tourism industry, he said.

The growth was a result of the increasing GDP and development of information technology, according to Shen.

"The Chinese people tend to be more open-minded," he said. Unlike the older generation, the younger generation likes to travel overseas. They regard it as a fashion, and the US is their No.1 destination," he said.

According to the US Department of Commerce, more than 2 million Chinese visited the country last year, and that number is expected to double by 2016.

"In 2008, only 200,000 Chinese visited the US," Shen said. "Just imagine the figure in 10 years' time when the market becomes mature!"