China: Rich with opportunity

China’s economy continues to expand and provide significant opportunities for business sectors across the United States. One of the most rapidly growing segments is tourism from China to the U.S.

Last year, more than 67 million international visitors traveled to the U.S. China was the seventh-largest international inbound market. By 2015, China is expected to become the fourth-largest market. This rapid growth creates a significant opportunity for Atlanta.

In 2012, Atlanta welcomed 47,000 tourists from China. While China was our seventh-largest inbound market, it ranked second in visitor spending. The average Chinese tourist spends more than $7,000 per visit. Every additional 1,000 Chinese visitors represent more than $7 million in spending in our hotels, restaurants, attractions and retail shops. This makes China a large opportunity for building our hospitality portfolio.

I recently traveled with Gov. Nathan Deal on his trade mission to China to explore this growth opportunity. Tour operators in Shanghai, Qingdao and Jinan showed great enthusiasm for trips to Atlanta and Georgia.

They said Chinese visitors are interested in cultural experiences, international brands and shopping. Atlanta is fortunate to have impressive offerings in these categories.

Most of our international travelers begin their exploration of Atlanta at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Tour operators also shared Chinese interest in the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum to learn how President Carter normalized relations with China. “Gone With the Wind” continues to be popular in China; the Margaret Mitchell House is included in any travel itinerary.

As for international brands, Atlanta has a strong core of offerings: CNN, World of Coca-Cola and Georgia Aquarium.

Finally, as the shopping capital of the Southeast, Atlanta offers premium retail brands at Lenox Square, Phipps Plaza and the North Georgia Premium Outlets. The new Buckhead Atlanta complex will bring more luxury retail offerings for domestic and international visitors.

When you consider Atlanta welcomed 42.3 million visitors last year, 47,000 Chinese visitors is a paltry sum. So the question becomes: How do we increase that number to 250,000? This increase would represent $1.5 billion in spending.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau secured agreements with two of the top five tour operators in Shanghai to carry trips including stops in Atlanta and other Georgia cities. This partnership, in conjunction with other opportunities we expect to close in Qingdao and Jinan, will give us a good start in expanding our Chinese visitation.

The airport’s new international terminal, coupled with Delta’s expanding service to overseas cities, makes international tourism the next area of significant growth for Atlanta.

China is rich with opportunity.

William Pate is president/CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.