Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 8:33 pm | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

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Santa Barbara Tourism Industry Leaders Prepare for Chinese Visitors

Officials say growing market for travelers from China shows promise for California, where 45 percent of Chinese tourists visited last year

Santa Barbara Adventure Company is one local business that’s taken Visit Santa Barbara’s China Ready seminar to heart, creating experiences focused for those travelers.
Santa Barbara Adventure Company is one local business that’s taken Visit Santa Barbara’s China Ready seminar to heart, creating experiences focused for those travelers.  (Santa Barbara Adventure Company photo)

A traveler from China likes to walk on Santa Barbara beaches, marveling at the clear water and skies, but not taking a dip in the Pacific Ocean.

The same visitor enjoys wine tasting but prefers learning about the process of winemaking more than drinking large quantities of the stuff.

That’s a snippet of the things Visit Santa Barbara is teaching local business owners as the region focuses on attracting visitors from China — a growing tourist market more recently relieved of travel restrictions and poised to make a significant splash in California’s economy.

About 45 percent of all Chinese tourists in 2014 — the nation has nearly 1.4 billion people, four times the size of the United States — chose California as their destination, said Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of the local tourism organization.

And as more visitors travel to cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco, the “been there, done that” mentality gives adjacent areas like Santa Barbara a chance at a piece of the pie, she said.

“We have a lot of wonderful attractions that are very attractive to Chinese visitors,” Janega-Dykes said.

“They’re interested in our harbor, fishermen, learning more about what’s available, tasting sea urchin. We’ve been working with attractions to look at different ways to package their business so it’s a little bit more interactive. This is the first year we’re really targeting or focusing on China.”

Visit Santa Barbara has hosted informational China Ready seminars sponsored by Visit California and China’s No. 1 accepted credit/debit card, UPI.

China is the state’s biggest overseas market after the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, with about 1 million Chinese tourists spending $2.5 billion in 2014, according to Visit California figures.

Chinese tourists also spend more than other international visitors, averaging $2,500 per trip.

While Visit California has no Santa Barbara-specific data, organization research showed the Central Coast saw about 14 percent, or 138,000, of California’s Chinese visitors in 2014, contributing $76 million in direct spending to the regional economy.

A shift toward traveling individually or with extended family in rental cars instead of on tour buses with brief stops along the way is particularly beneficial to Santa Barbara, which offers luxury travel, wine, outdoor and culinary experiences, said Jason Pacheco, who worked on the China Ready seminars as president and founder of BRIC Marketing Group.

Many Chinese tourists want to learn about wine and seafood during their trips to California and the Central Coast, Visit Santa Barbara officials said. Click to view larger
Many Chinese tourists want to learn about wine and seafood during their trips to California and the Central Coast, Visit Santa Barbara officials said.  (Santa Barbara Adventure Company photo)

Culturally sensitive tips for interaction include addressing the elder person in a group of Chinese tourists first, avoiding hugs, handing over business cards or hotel room keys with two hands and tricks on how to properly pronounce names.

Inspired by the seminar and untapped potential, Santa Barbara Adventure Company owner Michael Cohen put his team to work developing three new outdoor adventure trips centered around education, wine, seafood and marine life.

Translation services and staff training will be key, he said.

“We are just starting to see the beginning of a huge growth of Chinese travelers to the U.S.,” said Cohen, who opened his tour company nearly 18 years ago.

“It really focuses on the family. It’s unprecedented. It’s changing the way you do business a little bit. I don’t think it’s a big step for us to adjust to that.”

Tom Dolan, who owns Toma Restaurant on the waterfront with his wife, Vicki, noticed the same increase in Chinese visitors and took the liberty of translating his menu item descriptions into Mandarin Chinese.

With an Italian restaurant within a mile of most oceanfront hotels at 324 West Cabrillo Blvd., Dolan said Chinese visitors zero in on his eatery because it’s rated the No. 1 restaurant in Southern California by China’s Yelp equivalent, Lianorg.com.

“It’s been a savior,” he said of the new menus.

“Because of that (rating), more and more Chinese (visitors) have been coming into the restaurant, and most of them don’t speak English. Many of them would go in and look at pictures. Because Santa Barbara has become over the years more and more of a destination for international travelers, it’s really unique to see the new segment of international travel. The Chinese obviously have a huge potential.”

Janega-Dykes went to China with fellow tourism officials from Los Angeles a few months ago, and she will go on a trade mission again in 2016 with a personal invite from the Visit California CEO.

Visit Santa Barbara has translated brochures and some staff will travel to Beijing in the spring to form partnerships.

The organization expects to have a better idea of Chinese tourists’ impact locally in the spring with visitor profile and economic studies.

“International markets are very important to Santa Barbara,” Janega-Dykes said. “We’re in a good position to see more and more travelers.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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