U.S. to Add Staff to Visa Offices in China

In an effort to reduce visa wait times for affluent outbound tourists from emerging countries, U.S. officials are planning to bulk up staffing in those countries to better handle the skyrocketing demand.
The long visa wait times in these nations have been a sore spot with meeting planners and exhibition organizers. In Brazil it can take up to 145 days to get a visa, and in China it can take up to 120 days. According to a study by the International Association of Exhibition and Events, problems getting visas precluded 116,000 international participants from attending U.S. meetings in 2010, including some 37,000 exhibitors. That translates into $2.4 billion in lost sales. The U.S. Travel Association and the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board have recommended ways to speed up the process and have urged the government to act on them.
The federal government has heard the concerns and is working to address some of them, explained Helen Marano, director, U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, speaking at the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum, held June 1 in Washington, D.C. One initiative is to bulk up staffing in visa offices in Brazil and China, where travel to the U.S. is growing rapidly. Over the past five years, visas issued to travel to the U.S. jumped 234 percent in Brazil and 124 percent in China.
“We are working to expand staff in China, Brazil, and other posts with high visa demand as quickly as possible and expect officers to be on the ground soon,” said Rosemary Macray, media unit chief, Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs, U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, Washington, D.C.

“We are also in the initial phase of a new program to hire temporary visa adjudicators, starting with 10 Chinese speakers and 10 Portuguese speakers,” said Macray. This is a pilot program intended to supplement hiring of the traditional officers who do the bulk of visa adjudications overseas, she added. Visa adjudicators have the authority to issue or deny visa applications. “If successful, we plan to expand this program significantly.”
Also, the administration is looking at ways to speed up the interview process for low-risk travelers, she said. “We are trying to accommodate what you are challenged by,” Marano told ECEF attendees. “You are definitely in the focus of the administration.”
“The initiative of the US Travel Association to promote tourism from China, with a focus on affluent Chinese travelers is excellent and will generate a benefit for major branches of the country’s economy: Hotels, restaurants, retailers, transportation.” said Pierre Gervois, an expert on marketing to Chinese tourists and CEO of China Elite Focus.

The good news is that international travel to the U.S was up approximately 9 percent in 2010 and is projected to grow about 7 percent annually through 2016. Travel to the U.S. for business or to attend meetings was up about 12 percent last year and has increased 9 percent already this year. International travel to the U.S. represents 7 percent of the country’s exports and is a major part of the National Export Initiative, which seeks to boost exports by 50 percent by 2015.

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London tailors making their mark in China

Whereas once they were almost exclusively the uniform of London’s elite movers and shakers, the legendary Savile Row cut of suit has slowly been making inroads into China. And a collection of the British capital’s finest bespoke tailors now has big plans to extend its reach across the nation.

Gieves & Hawkes – founded in 1771 and the oldest and largest bespoke tailor on Savile Row – has just announced plans to open 10 new stores across mainland China this year alone, to go with the 90 already established in the country. As the famous Shanghai Travelers’ Club reported to his Chinese members  ” Gieves & Hawkes is definitely the best tailor in the World”. Such a compliment coming for the club known for organizing luxury trips abroad for the Chinese Elite is indeed very valuable.

The company – which is these days owned by Hong Kong’s Wing Tai Properties – claims that China is now its number one market globally and that some of those new stores will for the first time be placed in “third-tier” – or developing – cities in an effort to tap into the country’s rapidly rising and cashed-up middle class.

Savile Row suits traditionally cost between 3,000 pounds ($4,880) and 8,000 pounds ($13,000) and boast the “best tailoring money can buy” – something the people at Gieves & Hawkes say is increasingly being appreciated across China.

“There are very sophisticated consumers [in China] and they learn very quickly,” Gieves & Hawkes’ chief executive John Durnin told the South China Morning Post.

Other Savile Row tailors are certainly hoping so. Henry Poole (established in 1806) has a Chinese partner in Hanloon Tailoring, which now pushes the Poole label alongside its own in Beijing and Hangzhou, Zhejiang. Meanwhile, Norton & Sons (founded in 1821) is apparently looking into selling its E.Tautz ready-to-wear line in Hong Kong.

For its part, Gieves & Hawkes is also trying in its own way to change the traditional notion that China is the home of the “quick, easy and cheap” suit. Following on from the success the company has had with similar services in its flagshop London store, Gieves & Hawkes’ Hong Kong outlets will in the near future offer such extra luxuries as shoe shining and a grooming emporium within their walls.

In the end, the tailors say, it’s all about luxury.

“I think there is a growing population of very discerning customers in China; men who understand that obvious, mass luxury is not luxury at all, because anyone can buy it; it’s available everywhere and produced in enormous quantities. Real luxury is about scarcity,” said Patrick Grant, director of Norton & Sons.

World adapts to waves of Chinese tourists

Huang Meng, a veteran reporter for a Chinese news outlet, still vividly remembers his first trip to Paris in the mid-1990s.

When he entered the pyramid gate of the Louvre Museum, a mecca for Paris visitors, he saw there were free introductory pamphlets for visitors. But none of the handouts was in Chinese and as a result, he was lost in the huge maze of exhibits as he spoke only little English.

Last year, Huang visited France again. This time, he found not only pamphlets in Chinese in the Louvre, but also the museum’s Chinese web page. Moreover, some shop assistants at the luxurious Galeries Lafayette department store spoke Mandarin, while hotels with many Chinese guests provided TV channels in their native language.

“I am very exited to hear Chinese spoken and see Chinese signs in Paris. It is convenient for Chinese tourists,” Huang said. “And the hospitable French people really make me feel at home.”

Huang’s experience is not unique among the fast growing numbers of outbound Chinese travelers. While they are influencing the world tourism landscape in economic, cultural and other ways, the destination countries are also adapting themselves to the booming influx of Chinese tourists.

Outbound tourism has become a lucrative business for travel agencies in China, and heavy spending by Chinese tourists overseas has contributed to the economies of destination countries. In 2009, less than 5 percent of China’s over 22,000 travel agencies were engaged in the outbound tourism business. But overseas tourism generated 22 percent of China’s total tourism revenue, according to the China Tourism Academy (CTA).

Major tourist destinations across the world have seen surging numbers of Chinese visitors in recent years. In 2010 alone, 57.39 million Chinese traveled abroad, spending US$48 billion overseas, according to CTA figures. The World Tourism Organization has estimated that the number of outbound tourists from China would reach 100 million by 2020.

Thailand has long been a popular destination for Chinese tourists. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says China will become the biggest source of foreign tourists in Thailand in two to three years. At present, the number of tourists from China ranks third in Thailand, after those from Malaysia and Japan.

In Europe, France is among the favorite destinations for Chinese tourists. “Last year, the official figure of Chinese tourists in France reached 550,000. But the problem is that now with the Schengen Agreement, we don’t know exactly how many (Chinese tourists have actually visited France),” said Paul Roll, managing director of the Paris Office du Tourisme et des Congres.

“We feel by 2020, when there are 100 million Chinese visitors (globally), 1 or 2 million will come to Paris, so this obviously means that we need to get prepared,” Roll added.

The United States is another important destination for Chinese tourists. The country saw the biggest increase of visitors from China in 2010 with 810,738 travelers, up 53 percent from the previous year, according to US customs authorities. Kathryn Burnside, director of communications at California Travel and Tourism Commission, told Xinhua that of all the visitors from China, about 60 percent came to California. She admitted that the big inflow of Chinese tourists has helped contribute to the economy in the state.

Also according to the CTA report, Chinese are not only making more overseas trips, but are also spending a lot more in foreign countries than they did in the early days when China adopted its opening-up policy in 1979. More than a quarter of Chinese outbound tourists (26.85 percent) say shopping takes up the largest share of their expenditure, the CTA said.

In 2011, Chinese travelers are expected to spend a record high of US$55 billion on their overseas trips, boosted partly by an appreciating Chinese currency, the CTA said.

Chinese tourists buy almost everything, from Rolex watches to formula milk powder. Paris and China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are among the top shopping destinations for Chinese tourists. According to Pierre Gervois, an expert about marketing to affluent Chinese consumers ” The new generation of Chinese outbound tourists is now more and more sophisticated, and knows confidential luxury brands with just one store in New York or London that give much more prestige than the well known luxury brands already available in China”

The Champs-Elysees, Paris’ high street, is a shopping paradise for independent Chinese tourists, while Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores are also quite popular among them.

Luxury stores on the Champs-Elysees have followed the example of Galeries Lafayette by employing Mandarin speakers. Even the wool product brand Eric Bompard, which is little known in China, has a Chinese-speaking sales assistant in its shop close to the Champs-Elysees.

By Wu Liming and Shang Xuqian

Source: The Shanghai Daily

Rich Chinese are buying real estate abroad

Vancouver, London and the big cities down under are second homes of choice for China’s super rich, according to real estate services firm Colliers International.

One of the reasons the China real estate market is so hot is because wealthy Chinese are buying up property to hold onto real assets, rather than put money in low yielding bank bonds and volatile equities. The super rich are buying real estate outside of China in an effort to avoid taxes.

In the past six months, Chinese spent 1.3 billion yuan ($200 million) through Colliers’ international property department, with Canada, the UK and Australia topping list.  “We are expecting a clear increase in the extent of mainland buyers’ purchases of overseas properties this year because of the government’s rigorous restraint on the number of homes a family can buy in key cities,” Alan Liu, managing director of Colliers International, said.

Chinese demand has pushed the average price of a Vancouver home up 12% in 2010 and is expected to rise another 3% this year, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Demand from mainland immigrants now accounts for 29% of all new homes in Vancouver, China Daily reports.

In London, China buyers accounted for 28% of all prime London property sales and 54% by sales value in the prime central London area, where houses go for 5 million pounds ($8 million) on average, according to a recent report by Savills research.

“If the money from China were to start flowing into London at the same rate it does from billionaires in other countries, we would expect the value of ultra-prime London properties to grow by as much as 15%,” Yolande Barnes, head of Savills residential research told China Daily. “The issue at present is that Chinese buyers aren’t taking, or can’t take, their money out of China.”

The biggest increase in global billionaires since 2007 has occurred in China and Russia. The oligarchs from the old USSR account for 15% of prime London real estate by value.  Chinese billionaires have yet to have a real impact, accounting for just 3% so far, but that is expected to change as China’s uber-rich discover new ways to invest offshore.

Starwood Hotels’ Executives coming to China

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. announced an unprecedented managerial endeavor to move its Senior Leadership Team to China for one month. From June 8th through July 11th, Starwood President & CEO Frits van Paasschen and the company’s top executives will be headquartered in Shanghai, where they will conduct day-to-day business on a 12-hour time difference with their “usual” operations in White Plains, New York. This unique relocation underscores Starwood’s game-changing growth in China, which recently became its second largest market outside of the U.S. and its fastest growing. The move also reflects Starwood’s innovative approach to cultivate a more global culture in a company that grew up largely in the United States.

“With properties in nearly 100 countries, Starwood is no longer an American company that happens to run some hotels overseas. Today, we’re a global company that happens to be based in New York,” said van Paasschen. “Eighty percent of our future pipeline is outside of North America, and nowhere is more emblematic of our global growth than China, where we will open one hotel every two weeks this year. China’s spectacular transformation is hard to grasp unless experienced firsthand – it’s the proverbial, ‘you can’t really understand a culture until you buy groceries there.’”

From their home base in Shanghai, van Paasschen and seven members of his Senior Leadership Team will conduct daily business in an unconventional effort to understand, appreciate and ultimately leverage different cultural perspectives and approaches to business. In addition, more than 20 Starwood executives from the U.S. and international locations will join the team throughout the course of the relocation. The group will delve into Starwood’s extensive business in China, meeting with local customers, partners and developers, while also touring new properties throughout the country.

“Starwood has a card to play with the growing number of affluent Chinese tourists, they still have a lot of work to do with adjustements in their global strategy and deeply understanding the expectations of this new generation of Chinese travelers. ” said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus.

Impact of Chinese Travel Market Extends Beyond its Borders
During its month abroad, Starwood’s Senior Leadership Team will also bolster the company’s guest loyalty outreach among Chinese travelers. As one of the world’s fastest growing travel markets, with 100 million outbound travelers expected by 2015, China will play an outsized role in global travel within the next decade. The country continues to be the richest source of new loyal travelers for Starwood, with Chinese enrollment in Starwood Preferred Guest, Starwood’s loyalty program, jumping 71 percent in 2010.

Most “Globally Fluent” Companies Will Win
Based on the anticipated success of Starwood’s managerial experiment in China, the company intends to implement a month-long global relocation annually. Its next high-growth target markets include Brazil, the United Arab Emirates and India.

“It is not just language that gets lost in translation, but also cultural nuances. The companies that will break away in an increasingly global world will be those that are most globally fluent,” said van Paasschen.

China Illustrative of Explosive Growth in Emerging Markets
Starwood’s global relocation is also a symbolic trip, as the company reaches a new milestone: for the first time in its history, Starwood has more hotels outside the U.S. than inside. As the world’s most global hotel company with more hotels in emerging markets than its competitors, Starwood is on the frontlines of globalization, and is experiencing explosive growth in India, the Middle East, Africa and of course, China. Starwood enjoys a first-mover advantage in China dating back to 1985 with the landmark debut of the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing, which was the first international branded hotel in the People’s Republic of China. Today, Starwood has more than 70 hotels in China flying eight of its nine brands’ flags and another 90 properties in the pipeline.

Louis Vuitton, official brand of affluent Chinese outbound tourists

Louis Vuitton is making a pitch to consumers in a spot no Western brand has ventured before: the National Museum of China.

The French luxury giant, celebrating its 20th year in China, is unveiling special summer exhibit titled “Voyages,” which features the brand’s historical luggage and handbags, in one of the country’s most renowned museums. Having just opened its doors after an epic-long three-year renovation, the museum is one of the most highly-sought spots for the country’s tourists.

That makes it a perfect place for Louis Vuitton, which is playing off the current travel craze hitting China.

China’s consumers are set to catapult the country’s tourism market past Japan’s by 2020, according to Boston Consulting Group. Last year, China’s outbound tourism market alone was worth 1.5 trillion yuan of revenues, filling the pockets of airline and hotel industries. According to a  March 2011 confidential survey made by the prestigious Shanghai Travelers’ Club, the average wealthy Chinese outbound traveler (with an annual income > US$350,000) is the happy owner of an average of nine Louis Vuitton items for a total value of US$32,000…

The upscale brand, owned by luxury house LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton, is eager to tap into the travel boom. China, where the taste for luxury goods has driven sales for countless high-end labels, is one of Louis Vuitton’s key growth markets. Travelers, who likely have higher disposable incomes than the average stationary low-income worker, are the brand’s target audience.

LV’s museum partnership also fits into China’s recent art rage. According to a report commissioned by the European Fine Art Foundation, China is now the world’s second-largest market for art and antiques. The global art market was estimated at around $60 billion in 2010, of which China accounted for 23%.

Other luxury brands are trying out the artistic pitch in China too. Christian Dior launched a multimedia photo exhibit in Shanghai in mid-May, showing off its Lady Dior line of handbags. Earlier this year, U.S. designer Diane von Furstenberg rolled out her “Journey of a Dress” exhibit in Beijing’s 798 art district.

Many question whether luxury brands have the credibility to position themselves as art. Louis Vuitton took a little heat, when it opened an art gallery in its Champs Elysees flagship store, showing off an exhibit of nude black and white women spelling out and “L” and a “V” with their bodies.

The French company also hit a rocky patch in China earlier in May, when Shanghai’s city government required the company to demolish one of its advertisements—a 65-foot-tall suitcase—that violated the city’s outdoor ad regulations.

Louis Vuitton hopes this new suitcase endeavor will result in a little less baggage.

New Zealand is now targeting wealthy Chinese tourists

Wealthy Chinese tourists attracted to gambling, luxury shopping, discreet boutique hotels and exclusive activities in Queenstown want to be treated like royalty, media attending Trenz were told yesterday.

The “Luxury New Zealand” project was launched in May by Auckland International Airport. The project’s aim was to encourage rich Chinese outbound travellers to choose New Zealand for their luxury leisure trips in premium airline cabins.

The marketing campaign involved a website, social media and direct marketing, partnership with the exclusive Shanghai Travelers’ Club and VIP events in China with Chinese “high net worth individuals”.

China Elite Focus chief executive officer Pierre Gervois painted a portrait of the average wealthy Chinese tourist, saying a typical high-end tourist had a shopping budget between $50,000 to $200,000, travelled first or business class to New Zealand, then in helicopters, limousines, or sports cars around the country.

The tourist would travel as part of a couple, or with a limited number of wealthy friends, would organise his own itinerary, carefully choose his activities and may consider investing in real estate.

The tourist was “seeking respect and consideration in accordance with his social status,” Mr Gervois said.

“The new generation of wealthy Chinese travellers are searching for exclusivity and extreme luxury as a way of differentiating themselves from the middle-class Chinese outbound traveller,” Mr Gervois told the Otago Daily Times, after the conference.

“I can see the potential in Queenstown. It has boutique hotels, hidden gems, and I’m sure Queenstown has a card to play with extreme luxury and discreet activities.”

Mr Gervois told the conference the “old-fashioned” concept of group tours was being steadily rejected by urban, affluent and westernised Chinese travellers. Rich Chinese applied for the more easily obtainable business visa, instead of leisure visas, although business would be a small part of their travel plans.

Travelling abroad was the favourite leisure activity of rich Chinese, followed by collecting luxury cars and buying luxury watches, he said.

Gambling, recognised by the euphemism “entertainment”, as well as top-brand shopping, wine tourism, golf, yachting, luxury weddings, hunting, horse races and polo were activities sought by wealthy Chinese, Mr Gervois said.

However, New Zealand was, so far, associated with outdoor pursuits, sports, purity, calm and family in China, which were already marketed to the Chinese middle-class.