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Boston sets record for overseas tourist visits in 2014

A family from Scotland took a break from touring Boston by bicycle in the Public Garden earlier this month.
A family from Scotland took a break from touring Boston by bicycle in the Public Garden earlier this month.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Overseas tourists visited Boston in record numbers last year, driven by a surge in Chinese travelers, according to figures released Friday.

About 1.4 million overseas tourists and business travelers came to the city in 2014, up 10 percent from the previous year, according to data from the US Department of Commerce and the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Preliminary numbers from Logan Airport show that international tourism is rising again this year.

Officials cited the increase in nonstop flights between Boston and major international cities, a boom in Chinese tourists, and collaborative efforts within the tourism industry as reasons for the rise in global travelers.

Last year, about 173,000 visitors came to Boston from China, surpassing the number of visitors from the United Kingdom to the city for the first time, according to the Commerce Department. The agency’s figures do not include visitors from neighboring Mexico and Canada.

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Nearly a quarter of Chinese travelers visited Boston for education. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and other groups have also made concentrated efforts to attract more Chinese visitors and improve their experience, including offering welcome kits at some hotels with materials written in Mandarin, microwavable noodle bowls, and other amenities. This month Boston magazine debuted its first Chinese-language edition, a biannual publication translated for tourists, students, and investors.

Governor Charlie Baker, sounding a bit like a boosterish travel guide, called Boston “a terrific place, whether you’re talking about education, medicine, health care, high-tech.’’

Baker also pointed to the cleanup of Boston Harbor, the opening of the MBTA’s Silver Line, construction of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, and other developments that have made the city attractive to global travelers.

The governor joined the leaders of several tourism groups and businesses at an event Friday to publicize the influx in foreign visitors, who collectively spent more than $1 billion in the local economy last year, according to the Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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New international routes at Logan often include several flights per week and capacity for thousands of travelers. Many business professionals prefer nonstop flights over connections in other cities because of shorter travel times.

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the airport, authorized six nonstop flights to cities such as Dubai, Istanbul, and Beijing in 2014. Officials said the Beijing route is one reason for a 65 percent increase in Chinese travelers.

Data from the Convention & Visitors Bureau show that last year 60.8 percent of overseas visitors came to Boston for leisure purposes and 18.2 percent visited on business. Shopping and sightseeing were the most popular activities during their stays, which stretched to an average of 9.3 nights. More than half of overseas visitors said Massachusetts was their main destination.

Officials expect visits by foreign travelers should continue to increase as more nonstop flights take off.

Through June of this year, an additional 254,000 international passengers passed through Logan compared with the same period a year ago. The airport numbers include both foreigners and Americans traveling to overseas destinations.

Eight new flights will be added from Logan this year to cities including Hong Kong, Mexico City, Tel Aviv, and Shanghai. So far, another five international flights are slated to start in 2016.

But the growth in international passengers has also strained operations at the airport. Lengthy waits to clear US Customs and Border Protection processing prompted local officials to pressure the federal agency to add temporary staffing earlier this summer. Baker said Massport and state politicians will have to continue to lobby for more customs officers to keep up with the surge.

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Richard Doucette, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, said his agency is working to attract visitors during less popular travel periods.

“We’re bursting at the seams right now, but Massachusetts is wonderful in October and November,” Doucette said. “We’re telling people to come back or hold off [till] when there are fewer people in your way.”


Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follower her on Twitter @tarynluna.