Laura Gunderson's Oregonian article "China's 'retail tourists' ripe with potential for Portland:"
A Chinese film crew in town to shoot the Rose City for a television travel show was surprised at how few items Portlanders picked up at Wednesday's downtown farmer's market.
Chinese shoppers, they said, load up on many more fruits, vegetables and meat at their farmer's markets.
In part, it's buying habits such as those that two businesswomen aim to import on a much larger scale -- think Prada and Gucci, instead of peppers and goat cheese.
Liying Zheng, chief executive of the firm Beaverton-based Pacific Education & Cultural Exchange Center, helped bring the film crew here hoping that after the Portland episode airs this fall, Chinese from a handful of wealthier provinces recently approved to tour the U.S. will add a Portland stop to their itineraries for a day of sales-tax-free shopping.
The notion of retail tourism -- playing up a destination's haute couture offerings -- has picked up in recent years, yet a weakened U.S. dollar and a sluggish domestic economy make foreign shoppers all the more welcome. And China, tourism and retail experts agree, offers untapped potential.
Changes this spring to agreements between the U.S. and China now allow travel by tourist groups from seven provinces, including JiangSu, the region in which Portland's sister city, Suzhou, is located.
Last year, 40 million Chinese traveled abroad, said Tong Defa, China's consul in San Francisco. Some 300,000 traveled to the U.S. for business, academic or government-relations work.
"Oregon has a lot potential" for Chinese tourism, said Defa, referring to Portland's relationship with Suzhou and Oregon's sister state of Fujian province.
The Chinese most likely to visit Oregon are more sophisticated, looking to see both the state's natural beauty along with Portland's growing collection of local independent as well as high-end boutiques, such as Tiffany & Co. and Luis Vuitton, said Jin Lan, president of the Oregon-Fujian Sister State Association. They're also likely to drop an average of $2,000 to $3,000 per person per trip, he said.
Lan's association is working to bring another TV crew to Portland from Xiamen, a city within Fujian, and has invited Chinese photographers to capture the state's scenic attractions, such as Crater Lake and Mount Hood.
"Right now, the efforts are sort of fragmented," Lan said. "If we could direct our efforts together, we'd be much more powerful."
An initial group of 240 Chinese tourists arrived in the U.S. in mid-June, hitting New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco, where in less than an hour group members spent $8,000 at an Apple store, said Zheng's business partner, Jenny Dong.
"The U.S. is one big giant discount shopping mall," said Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation. Although his association doesn't track retail tourism, Krugman said chambers of commerce in several places, including New York and Chicago, have launched marketing campaigns to draw international shoppers.
Portland has competition. Seattle planned to open a travel office in Beijing on July 1, following other states -- including Nevada, the first state to market itself there in 2004 -- and Los Angeles. Hawaii opened its second office there this summer.
Next month, Nevada will host the first of about 100 Chinese tourists visiting the West, said Bethany Drysdale, spokeswoman for the state's Commission on Tourism. Past groups of Chinese journalists and businessmen snapped up belt buckles and turquoise jewelry, she said.
"They always want to see the Grand Canyon and the Vegas strip -- the American sites," she said. "Then we leave them for the evening and the next morning they tell us about all the shopping they did after we went to bed."
Retail-tourism prospects sound entirely plausible to Sho Dozono, the travel agency owner who helped with a similar effort nearly 25 years ago.
In 1984, a television show filmed in Bend, "From Oregon with Love," aired in Japan and soon gained a loyal following that Dozono said helped lead Delta to reinstate a direct flight to Tokyo, bring tens of thousands of tourists and spur business investments here.
"The only way to get the message out about Portland there is through mass media. No one could afford a marketing campaign on that scale," he said. "This may give us only 20 minutes of TV exposure, but you hope it's building a relationship."
Portland will be among several U.S. cities featured in JiangSu Broadcasting's travel series, "Chinese People See the World," expected to air in October.
As part of filming beginning last week, a two-man crew visited, among other places, a local winery, the Columbia Gorge, the coast and several retail destinations, including Northwest 23rd Avenue and the Pearl District. On Wednesday, they followed shoppers at the farmers market, zooming in for one shot on potatoes (common in Chinese markets) and in another berries (not so familiar back home).
With translating and interviewing help from Dong, producer Yulong Wei called out questions while the cameraman filmed shoppers wandering through a midmorning mist.
"In China, we always say if there's a good thing or good place that's hiding, people will find you," Wei said. "Portland is a beautiful place that Chinese people don't know. But they'll want to make an effort to come here."