CITYWIDE — They spend more, they stay longer, and they tend not to use cars.
International tourists are a no-brainer for the city by the sea and tourism officials continue a recruitment process that’s been ongoing for more than two decades.
English-speaking visitors from the United Kingdom, followed by Australia and New Zealand are still the most common groups staying in Santa Monica. However, as the incomes of the residents of non-English speaking countries, like China, rise some businesses are adapting.
In the fall, international tourists made up 56 percent of the bay city’s tourism market, up from the previous fall, according to data from the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
The CVB is making a push in, among other places, Brazil through trips, local media, and marketing. Vogue Brazil did a 10-page photo shoot of Santa Monica and CVB officials have taken trips to the country.
Despite the fact that Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil boast world-class beaches, the beach is still a centerpiece of Santa Monica’s draw, said CVB President and CEO Misti Kerns. These tourists notice the subtle differences that some Santa Monicans might take for granted.
“They want to go there because it’s different,” she said. “We have very unique aspects to our visit: Healthy lifestyle, the casualness. You can have a five-star meal in jeans. It’s easy to live like a local.”
The language barrier in Brazil — the official language is Portuguese — is actually more of a challenge for the CVB than for the Santa Monica businesses.
“There are so many languages, which one do you pick for marketing?” Kerns said. “Most of the Brazilian visitors are multi-lingual so when they come here they adapt.”
Visitors from other countries, like China, aren’t necessarily as interested in the differences in American culture. Some businesses, like the Santa Monica Place mall, are adapting to the Chinese tourists.
The Chinese are flocking to Los Angeles but they aren’t yet staying in Santa Monica, Kerns said. On the list of international visitors staying overnight, the Chinese are “not even showing up yet,” Kerns said.
They’re very rate-conscious, she said, so they often choose to stay in Los Angeles. But they like shopping and they are definitely stopping by.
“Because we just came through Chinese New Year, they were our number one international visitor,” said Santa Monica Place’s Senior Marketing Manager Shoshana Puccia.
Chinese shoppers have since dropped to number three on Santa Monica Place’s list but will likely return to the top by the end of the year, Puccia said. It should be noted that Santa Monica Place mall still pulls in many tourists from numerous countries including France, Italy, Brazil, and Australia, but in the last year business from the Chinese traveler is booming.
As a service to these international travelers, Santa Monica Place offers discounts to those who present passports. They also deliver purchases to hotels up to 11 miles away — Puccia said they make about 30 deliveries a month.
Additionally, the concierges are extensively trained to understand the cultural differences.
“One of the challenges for the Chinese is finding food that’s authentic for them,” Puccia said. “It’s like anybody: If we go to China you reach a point where you just want a hamburger. It’s the same for them. It’s one of those things that you have to be open to. They may not want (Santa Monica Place) food but you have to help them find the right place.”
Santa Monica Place hosted a large Chinese New Year celebration and held a fundraiser for Chinese hospitals in honor of their new Chinese shoppers.
Listening is key, Puccia said, as the new tourists sometimes speak less English.
“Our people really do stop to listen to what the needs of our Chinese guests are,” Puccia said. “Sometimes their English is not very good so they’ll travel with a tour guide, so it can be a little challenging, but we really do our best to meet their specific needs.”
Publisher Matthew Gibbons recently printed free maps of Santa Monica in nine different languages — including Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese — that he distributed throughout the region. “Million Maps Santa Monica” is meant to draw international tourists who are in the region and could choose to spend their days in other parts of Southern California.
There’s cachet for the Chinese tourist to be able to say they bought an item in Santa Monica, Puccia said.
“The Chinese visitor is always also very focused on authenticity of the product that they’re purchasing,” she said. “So they will actually go into the Louis Vuitton store and buy the handbag that they want in the United States versus in their country because they want to be sure that they got the real product. “