Philadelphia tourism officials are working to charm Chinese tourists, and a big part of their messaging is reminding people where Philadelphia is located.
“They will say, ‘Oh, I know some of our customers get on the train and go to New York and then go to Washington, D.C., and have no idea they went through 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. No idea,” said Jack Ferguson, who leads the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, talking about chatting with tour bookers.
The bureau recently announced the launch of an office in Beijing, where the geography lesson is especially important, since Chinese visitors often travel in groups and drop through several American cities on a single trip.
“We’re putting maps everywhere, so that you can tell where Philadelphia is,” said Brian Said with the convention and visitors bureau. He has weekly calls with the Beijing office to coordinate strategies to notch up Chinese travel numbers.
In 2013, city officials estimate that more than 40,000 visitors came from China, up 34 percent from 2010.
Tourism officials say it’s partly to do with the country’s strengthening middle class and a new reciprocal visa arrangement China struck with the U.S. recently.
Right now, travelers from the U.K. are Philly’s most prevalent visitors, and Chinese tourists hold the No. 4 spot, but that’s expected to change, according to Said.
“We believe with China, with the numbers the U.S. is seeing, and with our new investment, will improve to becoming our third and our second, and eventually, it will be our No. 1 feeder market,” he said.
The new outreach into China is part and parcel of a larger goal of landing in the top 10 U.S. cities for overseas visitation. But that’s going to take more international options at the city’s airport, which is now undergoing an expansion, including more runways and spruced up facility space, expected to be completed by 2025.
“When you look at the top 10 cities in visited destinations now, they all have direct, nonstop service into Asia, including India,” Ferguson said. “So in order to move up in that competition, we have to stimulate the growth at the airport.”
Ferguson said selling Philadelphia as a place close to New York and Washington doesn’t have to mean that it’s a less-than-desirable travel spot.
“I liken it to the many people who go to mid-Europe and go to Vienna, Budapest and Prague, and they do it for a reason because they might not come back to that area again. Well, think of the Northeast corridor of the United States, from Boston to Washington, D.C.,” he said.
“And the most American city of all of those is truly Philadelphia,” Ferguson said. “So you have to stimulate the fact that Philadelphia has to be on your list.”