Michigan aims to capture Chinese tourist market


LANSING — The number of Chinese travelers and the amount of money spent per visitor are the highest among all groups of international visitors, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

This potential tourism market is capturing the attention of Michigan’s government.

For the first time, Gov. Rick Snyder included tourism on the agenda of his recent investment mission to China and touted Michigan’s potential as a destination for international travelers.

“China offers Michigan the opportunity to tap into one of the fastest-growing inbound travel markets in the United States,” said Michelle Grinnell, the public relations manager of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “So Gov. Snyder made tourism and shared cultural and travel promotional opportunities between Michigan and China a key priority on this mission.”

With strong business connections between Michigan and China — business travel accounts for a large portion of international travel to the state — and more than 7,000 Chinese students attending universities in Michigan, there are tremendous opportunities to encourage additional leisure travel to the state by both groups, said Grinnell.

Snyder’s China trade trip also drew the attention of the Michigan Lodging & Tourism Association. Information about international tourism to Michigan, specifically from China, will be a focus in the next annual Michigan Tourism Conference in April 2016, according to Steve Yencich, the association president and CEO.

“We are very excited to grow potential tourism from China,” Yencich said. “We think that is a tremendous way to further and broaden the scope and depth of tourism itself — and, of course, the economic activity it generates.”

The growth in tourism would have a direct impact on lodging, restaurants and entertainment venues. Other areas would benefit, as well: website designers, marketing and advertising agencies, and vendors who sell food and beverages.

Lawyers, accounting firms and real estate firms also could be positively impacted, said Yencich.

According to Snyder’s office, tourism is one of the “big three” industries in the state, generating $22.8 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 214,000 jobs last year. A recent U.S. Department of Commerce report said revenue generated by the tourism sector rose to $173.1 billion in 2013, and $8.8 billion of that was spent by Chinese visitors.

Grinnell said unspoiled wilderness, unique cultural attractions and sporting events also are growing in popularity among tourists from China. Michigan’s professional sports teams and major sporting events have the potential to be a popular draw.

“In addition, Michigan is home to Detroit — America’s Great Comeback City — and there is continued interest around the world about the revival happening in the city,” she said.

According to Grinnell, Detroit is the city Chinese tourists visit most, given the direct flights to Detroit Metro Airport and business ties to many companies in the region.

“When they come to the state, they come to Detroit first,” said Renee Monforton, the director of communications of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“One of the things that we found out is that most people from China like to shop. And they are very attracted to our automotive scene.”

Promotion of Michigan tourism in international markets is different from promotions aimed at Americans, however. It puts more emphasis on building relationships with tour and travel package operators and with travel media rather than direct marketing to potential visitors, Grinnell said.

“Unlike in the U.S., many international travelers still book pre-arranged tours through travel agents and tour operators. It is critical that a Michigan product be included in those tours,” she said.

Monforton said many marketing techniques have been used to attract Chinese visitors.

“We do promotion through a number of ways,” said Monforton. “We work with Travel Michigan to bring people in, and we also have a representative in China who helps us to bring people in. We work with Brand USA to promote to the Chinese market through publications and websites.”

Promotion for the Pure Michigan campaign is also available on international social media channels, including RenRen, Weibo and Youku. The first two are the most popular social media across China.

Some destinations, such as Mackinac Island, do international promotion on social media.

“We’ve got our Facebook page,” said Alison Abraham, the assistant director of Mackinac Island Tourism. “In addition to Michigan and other states, other countries such as China, the U.K., Japan and Germany are in our top 10 visitors list.”

Grinnell said China is positioned to take over as the top overseas inbound travel market within the next five years, and Michigan already has begun laying the groundwork to capture a share of that market.

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