China's burgeoning moneyed class is hitting the road some 20 million traveled abroad last year, spending $48 billion on everything from hotel rooms to Louis Vuitton bags.
But for the most part they're not coming to Los Angeles.
Instead, much of the business has been lost to Las Vegas, where 90 percent of Chinese travelers coming into the United States stopped last year, lured by gambling and a far more aggressive marketing effort.
Also, Las Vegas has established itself as a serious retail center with venues such as the Forum Shops at Caesars that offer many of the same stores as Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
The success of Las Vegas in luring the Chinese highlights a strategic difference between its approach and that of L.A. tourism officials.
In June, the Nevada Commission on Tourism capped a yearlong effort to establish a beachhead in China when it opened a tourism office in Beijing. It was the only state to win approval for such an outpost.
"There are upwards of 100 million to 300 million Chinese people emerging into middle class who have the money and have an interest in traveling," said Chris Chrystal, spokeswoman of the Nevada tourism office. The country has a population of 1.3 billion, and "if you only got a tiny percentage it would still be very significant," she said.
LA Inc., the convention and visitors bureau, has yet to establish an office in China. Only within the past year has it signed a contract with a Chinese representative to gather market intelligence.
The local visitors bureau is still focusing on the recovery of Japanese and Korean tourism lost in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Japanese tourists to Los Angeles spent $302 million last year, off from $486 million in 2001, a year in which the last three and a half months were essentially lost to the industry.
The United States doesn't have approved destination status from China's National Tourism Administration, which means organized tour groups can't come into the U.S. from China. Individual tourists from China wishing to visit the U.S. must first apply for a visa.
In 2003, 45 percent of visitors to L.A. from China were here for business purposes, 24 percent came for leisure travel, 23 percent to visit with friends or relatives, 4 percent for conferences or conventions and 3 percent for study or teaching purposes, according to LA Inc.
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