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RENITA JABLONSKI: We give you all sorts of examples of Americans staying home these days, not spending on vacations. But there’s still a healthy market for U.S. tourism. Lots of group tours from China started hitting our shores during the start of the Chinese New Year holiday. To get in on all this tourism action, vacation hot spots are selling themselves to Chinese travelers. They spend $30 billion dollars going abroad each year. Our own Scott Tong checked in on a tourism expo in Shanghai.
SCOTT TONG: Every vacation spot you’ve ever heard of has a booth at this tourism fair. From Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro to the Aegean islands in Greece to Thailand’s Phuket. They’re all after one thing: a small piece of a giant pie.
ARGENTINIAN TOURISM REPRESENTATIVE: The China market, they are a lot of people.
TONG: A lot of people.
ARGENTINIAN TOURISM REPRESENTATIVE: Yeah.
That’s the woman at the Argentina booth. China exports 40 million tourists every year, and it grows 20 percent annually. Exhibitors from American destinations want in on this market. But first they have to do their homework.
AMERICAN TOURISM REPRESENTATIVE: Most people are here really to find out what the market is all about.
AMERICAN TOURISM REPRESENTATIVE: We’re on a fact-finding mission, it’s to find out what the customer wants.
AMERICAN TOURISM REPRESENTATIVE: We really saw this mission as an exploratory mission for us.
U.S. cities and states are marketing here for the first time. That’s cause Washington and Beijing just cut some red tape, allowing group tours to American destinations.
Where do Chinese want to go? Anywhere famous, says Reene Ho-Phang. She works the crowded Las Vegas booth.
REENE HO-PHANG: If you are marketing anything to the Chinese, brand prestige is crucial. It will make or break your marketing plans and all that.
Another winner: Hollywood. Melissa Ayala of Marriott Hotels has been hanging out today with the Universal Studios lady.
MELISSA AYALA: And I cannot tell you how excited everybody gets when they find out she’s from Universal Studios. One guy wants to order 50,000 tickets.
Ah, the enticing scale of China. But business veterans will tell you, if you misread the market you can lose your shirt here. One precaution on the travel side: expect thin margins, ’cause for Chinese, price is king.
AYALA: They are very budget conscious versus some of the other nations that have already been coming to the U.S. for a long time.
The American marketers found some other surprises: Many Chinese assume they have to tote wads of cash everywhere. They don’t all like being hugged. And they love trade-show freebies.
Matthew Boone’s at the California booth.
MATTHEW BOONE: So when they saw the beautiful cute, Shamu stuffed animals everybody wanted one, and there was a feeding frenzy around the Sea World booth.
Keep that in mind about Chinese tourists. Ready or not, here they come.
In Shanghai, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.