Chinese tourism helping to shape modernization of US air travel

Global Business

Chinese tourism helping to shape modernization of US air travel

Chinese tourist travel to the U.S. is on the rise. An estimated three million Chinese will tour America this year. And a new report indicates 23 million Chinese tourists will make the journey over the next five years. The question is, are U.S. airports ready for all these visitors? Could they be attracting even more?

CCTV America’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada isn’t a large facility, just 100 commercial arrivals and departures each day. It prides itself on its friendliness, its customer service.

Dogs are on hand to lower the stress of traveling for passengers. And airport staffs make sure those passengers are headed the right way.

Chinese visitors make up a tiny fraction of Reno-Tahoe’s business, but the airport has a resident Mandarin speaker, Jim Liu, who lends his interpreting skills when needed.

“So we try to understand the Chinese people. We try to put more effort to build up the bridge between China and Reno,” Liu said.

That bridge will be carrying more people in the years ahead. The numbers of yearly Chinese visitors to the U.S. will more than double to 6.5 million by 2020, according to consultants Boyd Group International.

“They really share our sense of humor, they really share our outlook and so it’s really such a natural fit,” Washington Airport Marketing Director, Todd Woodard, Spokane said.

And yet attendees at the recent International Aviation Forecast Summit were told U.S. airports aren’t ready for this influx of travelers.

“First impression could be very bad for Chinese visitors to the U.S.” Hainan Airlines Vice President Hou Wei said.

Hou said many facilities have long lines and are behind the times. Some of them are very outdated and not very user-friendly.

“Airports around America are losing a lot of economic impact because our gateways are not geared to handle Chinese visitors,” Boyd Group International President Mike Boyd.

Boyd said more visitors would fly through those airports if they felt more comfortable doing so. His firm China Ni Hao is working on that.

“It’s language, it is information, it is communication touch points. It’s being China welcome,” Boyd said.

Nowadays, it’s estimated that more than half of all international Chinese travel is initiated on smartphones. So it’s critical, experts say, that U.S. airports and travel destinations become more Internet-friendly, whether it’s setting up a WeChat page or a Chinese website.

Nearby Squaw Valley ski resort is preparing for a big bump in skiers from China.

“We’re working with everybody from front desk personnel to guest services, people at all the properties and resorts, our staff on the mountain, our signage.” Squaw Valley Ski Holdings President Andy Wirth said.

As the head of Reno-Tahoe Airport puts it,

“We’re learning those things we need to know,” Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority Marily Mora said.

A century and a half ago, Chinese laborers in this area helped build the cutting-edge transportation option of the day: the U.S. transcontinental railroad. Today, the influx of Chinese tourists is helping shape modernization of air travel needed to accommodate them.