Donald Trump's travel bans may have rattled the U.S. tourism sector — arrivals are down 5.3 percent since 2016, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office — but China is bucking the trend. "Chinese travelers don't seem to care about" such criticism (the president accused China of "raping" the U.S. in trade), says Lin Wang of the trade group National Tour Association. "Many like Trump because he used to be a celebrity." Thus, it's no surprise that L.A. is a top overseas market. While 2.9 million Chinese visit the U.S. annually, according to U.S. Travel's David Huether, 1.3 million travel to California. L.A. is a gateway city with a large Asian population and attractions, from Universal Studios to the Hollywood sign, that appeal to the Chinese. In 2016, L.A. became the "first U.S. city to welcome a million visitors from China," says the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board's Kathy Smits.
It's not just the number of travelers, it's how much they spend. According to Huether, the average spend per person per visit to the U.S. in 2016 was $2,546. The Chinese spend $6,901 on average.
Locals have taken note. The L.A. Tourism & Convention Board has for the past three years run a China Ready program (recently rebranded as Nihao China) to encourage tourism; 150 businesses, from The Getty Center to Malibu Wine Safaris and Wilshire Limo Services, have participated. Peninsula Beverly Hills, known for monogramming pillowcases in Chinese characters for visiting guests, offers a Bespoke Beverly Hills experience guided by a Mandarin-speaking personal shopper with unlimited access to luxury boutiques ($1,045). The Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills — which has Chinese menus and a Chinese event coordinator in addition to Chinese-style slippers, robes and kettles in rooms — creates custom content on its channel on WeChat, China's dominant social media platform. According to Four Seasons director of sales and marketing Greg Velasquez: "Our Chinese clients want to see content that isn't necessarily about Chinese-related items and want to learn about the destination, both on property and off," which can include anything from an interview with Four Seasons florist Jeff Leatham, translated into Chinese, to Beverly Hills segments. The Chinese market "has surpassed every other market except Canada and the U.K.," he adds. In December, Luxe Hotels, located in West L.A., downtown and on Rodeo Drive, will begin accepting Alipay and WeChatPay, China's largest mobile payment services. Says Luxe's Adam Sydenham, "With year-on-year growth, it seemed to be the next sensible step."
As for shopping, a favored pastime, Barneys New York, Breguet and Cartier are decorating storefronts for Chinese New Year, and Rodeo Drive stores from Hermes to Bulgari have on premises at least one Mandarin speaker. Such luxury brands as Chanel and Burberry will set aside designated pulls likely to sell well to the Chinese, from Bottega Veneta's $550 China Red Intrecciolusion large tote to iconic Burberry plaid items that come in sizes XS and XXS.
Then there are those who find Los Angeles so appealing, they wish to set down roots or purchase investment properties. Steven Dubin, a real estate agent and investment advisor at Douglas Elliman, says that 25 percent of his sales have been to Chinese buyers, a tenfold increase over the past four years. "They want to be as close to ground-zero Beverly Hills — Rodeo Drive — as possible and only want brand-new or never-lived-in homes," he says.
According to Shelton Wilder, an agent at Douglas Elliman — who works with Knight Frank, an international agency with offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, to attract mainland China and Hong Kong prospective buyers: "The Chinese are very particular with wanting off-market and unseen properties." She adds that Chinese buyers are "very direct and will quickly say yes or no."