Hous­ton hosts more Asian vis­i­tors

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HOSPITALITY - By XINHUA

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

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