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California welcomes Chinese to ski slopes

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-04-12 10:56

California has recently stepped up efforts to establish itself as the country's first "China Ready" ski and snow destination for Chinese visitors – its largest overseas market.

Visit California, the state's nonprofit tourism marketing organization, has recently hosted "Global Ready China" seminars in Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe, the largest two snow resorts in the state, as part of its three-year endeavor to prepare the state's tourism industry for Chinese tourists.

The organization found the state's winter attractions and snow activities are gaining popularity among a growing number of Chinese visitors despite California's image of endless summers. "We are rolling out the red carpet for Chinese travelers by becoming the first 'China Ready' ski and snow destination in the country," said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California.

"This latest evolution of the innovative series (China Ready program) keeps California businesses competitively positioned to attract and engage visitors from this critically important market," she added.

California is the top US destination for Chinese visitors and China is the state's fastest-growing market and highest-spending international market. Last year, a record 1.3 million Chinese tourists visited California, collectively spending $2.9 billion. An estimated 2 million Chinese visitors are expected annually by 2020.

Welcoming Chinese visitors and understanding the nuances of this complex market is becoming increasingly important, said Visit California. Since 2015, the organization has hosted Global Ready China seminars to equip local businesses with cultural, sales and service trainings to accommodate Chinese visitors.

"Chinese tourists go to Canada or Switzerland for overseas snow resorts, but now more and more of them realize California is a perfect place to enjoy snow activities," said Charlie Gu, director of China Luxury Advisors, a tourism consultancy that partnered with Visit California in the Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe seminars.

California is home to one of the longest ski seasons in North America. Tourists can spend the morning in a snow resort and enjoy beach in the afternoon. "California is the only place where you can have such unique experience," he said.

The snow resorts in California are easy to access and close to the gateway cities of San Francisco and Los Angles. For instance, it's about 5 hours' drive from San Francisco to Squaw Valley Ski Resort and about the same time from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes, said Gu.

"It appeals to Chinese self-driving tourists as they can enjoy the beautiful sceneries along the road. Route 395 linking Los Angel and Mammoth Lakes, for example, is a famous scenic highway," he added.

To ensure California's ski and snow destinations are well-positioned to accommodate Chinese visitors, the seminars provide businesses with the insight they need to provide tailored and culturally relevant vacation experiences for visitors from China.

"The US businesses need to learn about Chinese tourists' cultural backgrounds and habits, which are rather different from the US tourists," said Gu, who shared expertise with industry partners in the seminars.

He said Chinese family travelers prefer mild and relaxing activities, like snow sledding and tubing, instead of speed skiing. When choosing hotels, they like hotels with kitchenette, he said.

"International visitors are an economic engine for local communities, providing valuable jobs and fueling growth for our tourism industry," said Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, the parent company of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts.

"With the record snowfall this season, we're committed to becoming Global Ready so that Chinese visitors can enjoy all California's winter wonderland has to offer," he said.

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