Shopping malls in southern California are going to great lengths to accommodate an important new clientele: tourists from China.
According to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, Los Angeles had 570,000 Chinese visitors last year — double the number from three years ago and 20 percent more than in 2012. They are also big spenders, with Chinese tourists in California spending an average of $2,472 per person on each trip, according to Visit California.
While Chinese tourists have a history of international shopping, demographics are changing. Many of today’s visitors come from second- or third-tier cities, particularly provincial capitals like Kunming, Xian, and Wuhan. According to the Los Angeles Times, these cities “have driven much of China’s economic expansion in recent years and created new pockets of wealth.” The growing number of people from these cities visiting the United States reflects America’s “deepening business relationship” with China.
“Chinese tourists now realize their significance in the retail world,” said Susan Vance, head of marketing at the Beverly Center, a high-end mall in Southland.
Recognizing the buying power of Chinese consumers, the Beverly Center has calibrated their marketing approach to draw as many tourists from China as possible. The mall has its own account on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media outlet, to alert customers about discounts and new items. The center also hosts visits for Chinese tour guides to familiarize them with the mall before they bring their busloads of potential shoppers.
Escher Werner, a marketing executive at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, has also gone to great lengths to secure a foreign clientele for his shopping center. Ten years ago, he began making trips to China to promote the mall, but in the last few years, he found “an eager reception for information about the mall” in China’s less-developed west and began to pass over the first-tier cities of Shanghai and Beijing.
Several shopping centers in southern California have also hired guides to advise and escort tourists from lower-tier cities through the malls’ numerous retailers. These guides provide tourists with such amenities as Chinese-language mall maps, discount cards, and fashion advice for less experienced shoppers who may be on their first trip abroad.
The LA Times also suggests that the rise of Chinese spending in California “may be the result of shrinking investment opportunities back home, excess foreign currency and prices in the US that are a relative bargain.”