Chinese New Year Brings Tourists and Spending Power to U.S
CNBC Chief International Correspondent
The explosion in Chinese wealth is being felt across the United States as hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists descend upon America. They're here to celebrate their New Year holiday, and while they're at it, spend like crazy.
From hotels to retailers on New York's 5th Avenue, American companies are rolling out the welcome mat for Chinese tourists in an effort to capture a portion of the growing revenue stream from the Far East.
The Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China and tradition states one should visit family. Due to the huge migration of workers from the country to the cities in the last 30 years, this now means hundreds of millions of Chinese must travel to go back home to visit relatives.
(Read More: Why Luxury Brands Are Celebrating Chinese New Year)
The result is a human travel wave of epic proportions. CNBC's correspondent in Beijing, Eunice Yoon, described the huge spike in travel "as a combination of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Eve all rolled into one."
The Chinese state-run newspaper estimated there will be 225 million railway passengers during the holiday.
And now, after the easing of travel restrictions and visa requirements in both the US and in China, the Chinese are increasingly using the two-week long holiday to travel overseas, particularly to the United States. Their tourism numbers are starting to hit critical mass in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even places not necessarily seen as Asian gateway cities, such as Boston. (Read more: Rich Chinese Flee, Bringing Their Wealth With Them)
Ten years ago, the US received roughly 150,000 Chinese visitors per year. Now, nearly that many arrive each month, according to the US Department of Commerce.
2011 was the first year the number of Chinese tourists to the US hit 1 million. The Department of Commerce predicts that number will grow to 4 million by 2017, a whopping 300 percent increase. No other nationality comes close to matching those growth expectations.
Even more important, the average Chinese visitor spends a lot more than travelers from almost any other country.
California's Division of Tourism reported Chinese visitors spend on average $179 per day and as much as $1,897 per trip. That's way above the average for all overseas visitors to California of only $117 and $1,299 respectively.
The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau's research found similar high-spending patterns. Consider this: in 2011, British visitors to Boston numbered 280,000, spent an average of 5 nights, and collectively spent $230 million. The number of Chinese visitors was less than half the number of Brits: 130,000. They spent on average less than 3 nights in the city. And yet, they collectively outspent the British: $300 million.
That short length of stay frustrates tourism promoters in the Boston area. They've discovered that one of the only reasons the Chinese visit Boston is to make the pilgrimage to Havard and MIT. After that they leave.
Jolin Zhou, of Sunshine Travel, the largest Chinese tour operator in Boston, said she arranges tour packages for thousands of Chinese students every year. (Read More: Has China Quietly Joined the Currency War?)
She noted, "The biggest reason Chinese visitors come to Boston is to visit prestigious academic institutions like Harvard and MIT because Chinese people really attach great importance to education and are very willing to spend on it."
The Boston Convention Bureau is now making huge efforts to convince these visitors that Boston has to more to offer than just the universities. If they can increase the average length-of-stay be even one night, it will translate into even more money for the city.
The organization's president Pat Moscaritolo told CNBC they are creating a webinar for Boston retailers and restaurants to give them pointers on catering to the Chinese customer. And they've helped local restaurants create Mandarin-language menus.
—By CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera; Follow her on Twitter: @MCaruso_Cabrera