Houston hosts more Asian visitors
Houston businesses are rolling out the red carpet for Asian tourists who arrive in the fourth largest city in the Unites States for a slice of authentic Texas life.
“They are looking for that classic Texas experience — the cowboy roping a calf, horseback riding and seeing a giant Texas longhorn,” said Jennifer Farrell, director of marketing at the George Ranch Historical Park and its working ranch. “Heritage tourism is a big thing.”
The 9, 300 -plus-hectare George Ranch, located in adjacent Fort Bend County, traces its history to 1824 when Texas was still part of Mexico. Last year, the heritage park hosted 56,000 visitors, many of them from Asia, Farrell said.
David Becker, CEO of Attract China, a travel portal focusing on Chinese tourists traveling to North America, said that the number of Chinese visitors to the US each year is approaching 2.5 million, and their contribution to the US economy is expected to hit $85 billion by 2021.
“Houston really provides a both contemporary and American vacation,” Becker said. “You have both urban and country living. You can have barbecue and steak.
“A grass-fed, corn finished steak is not an experience that most Chinese have. Most get their meat from dairy cows and the portions are quite small.”
In Houston, Becker said, “they can do the classic American experience. The countryside, wide-open spaces are amazing, as well as the expanding urban landscape”.
Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming has played a huge role in attracting Asian tourists to the city. Although he retired in 2011, Yao’s footprint in Houston remains large and his legacy endures.
Leo Yao, an Asia-Pacific representative at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that Asian tourists usually have a clear idea of what they want during a Houston visit.
“Asians enjoy shopping, and they shop at the Galleria and in the River Oaks District,” two of Houston’s highend shopping areas. “They also like to shop at Walmart and Walgreens, where they enjoy buying cosmetics and vitamins and things like that.”
The Galleria is the fourth-largest mall in the US, with 400 stores and two hotels, while the River Oaks District is home to luxury stores, including Cartier, Dior and Hermes. Chinese tourists recently became the Galleria’s biggest group of foreign shoppers, and stores are hiring Mandarin-speaking sales staff to cater to them.
A growing number of airlines servicing Asia, including United Airlines and All Nippon Airways, are also helping to boost the number of Asian tourists in Houston.
“Before 2008, we had only Continental Airlines flying between Tokyo and Houston,” Yao said. “Today, we have United and ANA Air. We have so many Asian airlines flying into Houston and they bring the tourism.”
Local hotels, including the upscale S t . R e g i s Ho u s t o n , m a ke s p e c i a l efforts to accommodate the growing number of Asian visitors, said Matthew Vesely, the hotel’s director of marketing and sales.
“We have room door hangars written in Chinese characters so they can order comfort food in their style,” Vesely said. “We also put their slippers next to the bed right away; we don’t wait for turn down service to do that. They like to wear slippers in their room all the time.”
Yao said that Chinese tourists are discriminating about what they want to do and see in Houston.
“When you create an itinerary for a Chinese visitor, if you tell them we’re going to a museum, they will always tell you no,” Yao said. “However, if you say we have the Houston Museum of Natural Science with a dinosaur park, they realize we have a special museum. Many will stay to see the Egyptian exhibit as well.”
Chinese visitors’ expected contribution to the United States economy by 2021