As I write this month’s column, I am in China, continuing my focus on making sure LA becomes the No. 1 destination for the rapidly growing China travel market.
As you may have seen in various news reports, I took part in an historic meeting this week with China President Xi Jinping and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This meeting put the importance of further growing tourism opportunities between the U.S. and China center stage, with Los Angeles in the spotlight as the leading U.S. destination for Chinese visitors.
First, President Xi shared with us how important travel and tourism is to his administration. He further shared his belief that tourism is critical to developing bilateral friendships around the world and that it has been central to the growth of U.S.-China relations.
He talked about the rapidly growing numbers of Chinese people that are traveling and indicated it could soon reach 200 million per year. He also reinforced the importance of Los Angeles as the primary Asian gateway to the U.S., referring to LA as the “epicenter” of the U.S. – China relationship.
The relationship between Los Angeles and China began in 2006 when Mayor Villaraigosa and LA Tourism opened the first-ever licensed U.S. destination travel and tourism office in China, in the city of Beijing. And, as part of this week’s activity, we opened a second LA Tourism office in this crucial international market, this time in Shanghai.
China has emerged as the most powerful driving force behind growth in tourism. China is our fastest growing international market, and in 2012 it became our No. 1 overseas market. LA is the most visited city by Chinese travelers in the U.S., and we intend to keep that leadership position.
That is why I have worked so hard on China in my first four months as President & CEO and will continue to do so. In April I returned from my second trip to China this year as part of Governor Brown’s delegation and to meet top tourism leaders and travel trade executives in April. Their insights and feedback are helping us develop new sales and marketing initiatives for the China market that you will continue to hear about in the coming weeks and months.
Prior to heading to China, I was proud to host over 200 of our members at LA Tourism’s Member Breakfast at Center at the Cathedral in Downtown as part of National Travel and Tourism Week. In addition to announcing our new China office, I also announced that LA Tourism has an opportunity to welcome 50 million visitors to Los Angeles by 2020.
That is a big number and a bold goal. It’s aggressive. But, with big goals, come big results.
Getting to 50 million visitors is going to take on ongoing focus on improving infrastructure, continuing to attract new and bigger hotels, and a “culture of tourism.
We are approaching an average hotel occupancy rate of 80%, which means LA is at maximum capacity for a large part of the year. To be able to absorb increased visitor demand, we need about 5,200 more hotel rooms. We are well on the way, with new hotels being built now or planned for the next two years bringing at least 3,399 guestrooms. In Downtown alone at least 1,600 rooms are in the pipeline.
We also need to ensure that our Convention Center is expanded with a larger contiguous space so that we can bring in more of the big citywide conventions that fill up our hotels and restaurants.
The airport modernization and the new Tom Bradley International Terminal opening this year means LAX will be able to welcome more next generation jumbo jets like the A380 than any other airport in the United States. That is an important competitive advantage that we need to maximize so we can secure more direct international routes to LA. It is a key part of our focus on China and the crucial international travel market.
Fostering a “culture of tourism” means, that, everyone in LA needs to become part of a 4.4 million person welcoming committee. The world’s great destinations are the great global service-oriented destinations. We need to be out there greeting visitors, offering information and resources, fulfilling our role as host and rolling out the red carpet. The smiles, warm hospitality and helpfulness of a people are among the strongest factors that keep tourists coming back to a destination over and over again.
There are a many reasons to be inspired and optimistic about where LA’s tourism industry is headed. Working together, we will continue to achieve even greater goals. As always, LA Tourism will be there working hard on behalf of our members and partners, and ensuring that the world keeps coming to LA.
With best wishes,
Ernest Wooden, Jr.
President and CEO
Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board