The largest Chinese tour group ever to head to the United States descended on Los Angeles over the past week, requiring 70 commercial flights to shuttle more than 6,000 visitors.
The tourists are employees of a Guangdong-based, Malaysian-funded direct-selling firm, Perfect (China) Company, known for rewarding its Chinese workers with free trips.
The first group that arrived on Wednesday were taken on a shopping spree at South Coast Plaza, a shopping mall in Costa Mesa.
“We served 34 vans of Chinese tourists today,” the plaza posted on Sina Weibo, with pictures showing the local retail giant rolling out the red carpet for mainlanders and sending senior staff to greet them.
All 6,000 guests will be divided into hundreds of smaller tour groups with different focuses, such as shopping and sight-seeing, according to a spokesman for China International Travel Service (CITS), which planned the trip for Perfect.
The visitors will attend a seminar and a grand banquet tomorrow in Orange County, where Perfect's CEO will meet them.
“It marks the largest Chinese tour group to the States,” said Sunny Wang, spokesperson of Brand USA, a semi-official not-for-profit travel association, set up by the Obama administration to promote US tourism.
Brand USA assisted the tour groups in liaising with airports and local tour agencies.
Beverly Hills, Santa Monica Beach and other California hotspots braced for the hordes of customers from the world’s second-largest economy.
Despite their deep pockets, mainland Chinese tourists were voted the second least-liked tourists, after Americans, in the world, based on a 2012 survey of 5,600 people globally.
Mainland tourists’ behaviour have often landed them in hot water – such as in Egypt, where a visitor vandalised a pyramid; or more recently in Hong Kong, where a couple got arrested for letting their child urinate on a busy street.
Aware of potential frictions between the world’s first and second-most disliked tourists, CITS has come prepared.
“That’s why we arranged do’s and don’ts lectures for the tour group before they left for the States,” the spokesman said.
Perfect – which sells health foods, household goods, and skin care and cosmetics products – has previously brought its sales staff on holidays to Canada, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
According to the US Commerce Department, a record number of Chinese visitors – more than 1.8 million – travelled to the US last year, a 23 per cent increase from the previous year.
Chinese visitors spent an average US$9,797 on every visit that year, a ninefold growth from a decade ago.