Interview: John Boesche on Chinese visitors to Seattle, and yes, they spend
By Wen Liu May 8, 2016
You probably remember back in 2013 when the hit Chinese movie “Beijing Meets Seattle” first came out, especially how it served as perhaps the best, and free, advertisement for Seattle as a tourist destination to viewers in China. It attracted not only Chinese tourists, but also home buyers and business investors. How did the Chinese tourists do last year? What about this year? 2016 is a special year for Greater Seattle tourism, not only because it is the U.S.-China Tourism Year as designated by President Obama and President Xi Jinping, but also because of the recent release of “Beijing Meets Seattle 2.” To find out more about Chinese tourists and Seattle, we have none other than the Director of Tourism Development at Visit Seattle, Seattle and King County’s official tourism marketing agency, John Boesche, who was in Beijing last November promoting Seattle.
WCWD: According to Visit Seattle’s latest annual report, the total number of visitors to Seattle and King County reached 38.1 million in 2015, up 2.6% from 2014, and they spent $6.8 billion here, up 5.8% from 2014. How many of the 38.1 million were visitors from China?
John Boesche: Of the 38.1 million visitors in Seattle, 19.7 million of them were overnight visitors. Approximately 7.3% (or roughly 1.44 million) of those overnight visitors were international – and it should be noted that a majority of our international visitors are from Canada. With the help of data from the Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, it can be estimated that approximately 80,000 Chinese visited Seattle and Washington state in 2015. China is our #1 overseas international market, but given our close proximity, Canada is easily our top international market.
WCWD: The report also said that international visitors accounted for 7.3% of Seattle's tourists last year but contributed 17.3% of total visitor spending, up 15% from 2014. What percentage of Seattle’s international visitors last year was from China, and how was their spending?
John Boesche: By using multiple sources and formulas, we can estimate that China’s overall spending in Seattle and King County was close to $300 Million USD. The typical Chinese visitor spends significantly more in the retail category that in other travel-related categories (lodging, airfare, food & beverage, etc.), which is different from many international markets.
WCWD: 2016, is the U.S.-China Tourism Year, as designated by President Obama and President Xi Jinping last year. What is Visit Seattle doing differently to attract Chinese tourists this year?
John Boesche: Visit Seattle is eager to initiate collaborative marketing opportunities with travel trade partners in China this year. Due to budget limitations, Visit Seattle has not been able to fund traditional marketing campaigns in the past. However, with tourism to the US a priority in 2016, we are seeing the Chinese travel trade industry, particularly online travel agencies, more interested in promoting destinations like Seattle.
WCWD: The 2013 Chinese movie “Beijing Meets Seattle” attracted a lot of tourists from China to Seattle. Now the sequel is out, another romcom expanding the Seattle love story to a wider world. Do you think the magic of the original movie would continue to draw Chinese visitors?
John Boesche: Visit Seattle recently partnered with Delta Air Lines during the movie’s premier in China to promote our destination and its affiliation with the movie. We anticipate it will once again create demand for Seattle and Washington state, much like a few years ago, particularly with a younger audience.
WCWD: At the same times, China’s economy is slowing. Do you see it is affecting or would affect the number of tourists from China to the Greater Seattle region?
John Boesche: China’s growth in visitation to Seattle and Washington state has been so significant the last couple years that even if the growth rate slows in 2016, the market as a whole will still be very healthy. Seattle is uniquely positioned to succeed during a slowing international economy due to its incredible airlift and accessibility – and also a very strong corporate presence, which helps support the leisure business we see from key international markets, like China.
(For more information on major events in Washington state-China relations, go to WA China Chronicle.)