California Tries To Save Its Tourism Industry by Luring in Rich Chinese Visitors

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jun 25, 2024

San Francisco and Los Angeles have relied on tourism as one of their main sources of income for decades. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people visiting the Golden State has yet to return to normal.

Now, the California Tourism Board is attempting to lure Chinese tourists in to pick up the lost revenue.

China Had Strict Restrictions on Travel

Until last year, Beijing had strict rules on international travel. The pandemic hit the country especially hard. To contain the virus, officials were forced to implement harsh rules on travel.

A busy street in China filled with lanterns, shop fronts, and people walking through the rain with coats and umbrellas

Source: Nuno Alberto/Unsplash

Pandemic-era travel restrictions lasted in the country until 2023, when they were lifted. Still, the number of Chinese visitors last year in Los Angeles was just 40% of the 1 million who visited in 2019/

Tourism Needs a While To Pick Up

The US National Travel and Tourism Office predicts that the numbers will only return to pre-pandemic levels in 2026 if new initiatives are taken in California.

Two tourists explore a city during a holiday and take pictures of the sites

Source: Freepik

There are several factors stopping the flow of pleasure travel around the globe. Many people had their finances destroyed by the pandemic and in combination with the cost of living crisis, luxuries like international travel may not be possible.

Chinese Residents Face Economic Uncertainty

In a country that was rocked by the global virus, many Chinese residents never returned to their economic and financial status before the pandemic.

A view of a large city with several modern sky scrapers

Source: @Hanny Naibaho/Unsplash

In addition to the lack of funds for travel, Beijing unleashed their own plan to increase domestic travel within the country. Sam Huang from Edith Cowan Univesity works as a Professor of Tourism and Services Marketing, he says that the slowing economy is currently punishing China’s middle class.

Flights Between California and China Have Slowed Drastically

In San Francisco, there are only 25 flights to China a week. This is just half of the pre-pandemic numbers.

A white plane takes off from an illuminated tarmac next to a wide mountain range and a city scape

Source: Pascal Meier/Unsplash

When fewer flights are available, they become much more expensive and difficult to afford, especially international travel.

Mayor of San Francisco Has Hope for the Future

The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, recently went to on a trip to China for diplomatic purposes. The tourism between countries was a hot talking point as she met with Chinese airlines.

A woman with dreadlocks wearing a purple top and a black coat while speaking into a small microphone

Source: @greenbergnation/X

To repair some connection between the two places, Breed plans on bringing pandas from China to the San Francisco Zoo, which will hopefully spike interest in the city as a global destination.


California Is Banking on China for Financial Boost

During his trip, the mayor remarked that the economic opportunities could be “significant” for the state.

A view of a large lake surrounded by tall evergreen trees with mountains in the background

Source: Samantha Sheppard/Unsplash

“Just to put it into perspective, we are not at pre-pandemic levels for flights coming in from China. But already last year, we saw over US$633 million in economic impact to the city, just from tourists who came from China to our city,” she added.


Chinese Travellers Still Add Massive Amounts to the California Economy

Although the number of Chinese tourists has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, visitors from the country still spent roughly $2 billion in California alone last year.

A shot of the LA skyline on a nice day. Multiple palm trees take up the view of the foreground

Source: shalunts/Getty Images

Businesses that focus on international tourism have been struggling in recent years. Places like the Fisherman Wharf and outlet malls have all seen their revenues drop drastically without the additional foot traffic.


Marketing California Through Social Media

They have implemented several social media campaigns to help the state seem more desirable to international visitors.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to a crowd

Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Gavin Newsom, the Democratic Governor of the state, even visited China last year during an international tour to promote climate cooperation.


The Population in California Has Finally Grown

During the shutdowns of 2020, millions of people fled the state when they couldn’t work or pay their rent.

A California flag on a pole next to an American flag.

Source: Drei Kubik/Unsplash

As a result, the state was hemorrhaging residents and losing out on valuable tax dollars. This year is the first time that the population has grown in California, marking a clear resurgence of interest in the state. Hopefully, the tourism board can capitalize on the interest and turn travellers into dollars.


Chinese Tourists Prefer World Class Cities

Several studies have shown that wealthy Chinese tourists who can afford international travel for long periods of time generally prefer to visit world-class cities.

The Golden Gate Bridge seen in the daytime.

Source: Maarten van den Heuvel/Unsplash

Some of the top places on the list include New York, Syndey, Paris, Bangkok, and Kyoto. To compete with these destinations places like LA and SF will need to improve their crime rates and possibly add more amenities.