Visitors bureau pitches malls to Chinese tourists

A new campaign aimed at luring big-spending Chinese tourists to Boston’s western suburbs is playing up an unusual star attraction that has nothing to do with Thoreau, Emerson, or the Minutemen: the Natick Mall.

While local history will get a nod, the Route 9 shopping complex and its lineup of high-end stores will be front and center at a new website for Chinese tourists that the MetroWest Visitors Bureau is preparing to unveil.

The new venture is being designed to run on the Chinese version of the Internet, with plans to use Chinese social media platforms to drive traffic and interest, said Susan Nicholl, executive director of the Framingham-based organization.


The decision to focus the pitch on shopping rather than history stems from federal statistics that point to prodigious spending at malls across the United States by Chinese visitors, especially on luxury brands, Nicholl said.

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“We are very focused on China, and very focused on Chinese visitors that have deep pockets and want to come here and spend money,” she said. “We want to help them with that.”

The MetroWest Visitors Bureau, which draws some of its support from the state’s Office of Travel and Tourism, hopes to have its new site up and running in China by early fall, Nicholl said.

The organization has hired a private consultant, Elixure, with an extensive background putting up similar websites in China for American private schools and colleges, to do the job.

The Natick Mall is a leading corporate sponsor of the site, which, when complete, will have a total cost of less than $10,000, Nicholl said.


The deal also includes a campaign that will use Chinese social media platforms such as QZone and Weibo to spread the word about the attractions — and deals — to be found in MetroWest, she said.

Hotels, restaurants, and other businesses eager to host free-spending tourists from China are also lining up to pay for a spot on the website, she said.

It will not all be about shopping, though. Some pages will highlight the area’s historic and cultural attractions, and not just necessarily such tourist hot spots as Lexington and Concord, but also other communities like Natick, which has a spacious town common and cultural attractions such as the Center for Arts in Natick, Nicholl said.

The rollout of the website is timed to take advantage of the recent debut of the first nonstop flight service between Boston and Beijing. In June, Hainan Airlines began flying four trips a week between the two cities, a move that is expected to boost the number of Chinese tourists visiting the area, Nicholl said.

The visitors bureau hopes to piggyback on the expected increase, betting that its website will convince Chinese tourists to take a short ride west from Boston, she said.


Given that commutes in China can be hourslong and brutal, the distance is not likely to faze Chinese tourists, Nicholl said.

“We know the number of Chinese coming to Boston is going to skyrocket,” she said. “Massachusetts is already the fourth most popular destination for Chinese travelers. For them to come to MetroWest from Boston is nothing.”

Meanwhile, the eagerness with which local tourism boosters and businesses are pursuing Chinese tourists has a lot to do with what these visitors from afar do when they get here.

Two statistics, both from the US Department of Commerce, help to explain the excitement: 87 percent of Chinese visitors to the United States say shopping is their top priority, and Chinese buyers account for 33 percent of all luxury goods purchased in the United States.

“It’s incredible how much money they are spending,” said Tony D’Agostino, research director for the state’s Office of Travel and Tourism.

While luxury clothing stores and other high-end retailers may seem like an expensive place to shop, the prices are competitive compared with what Chinese residents pay in their own country, according to Nicholl.

In a bid to get local businesses ready to welcome tourists from China and other Asian countries, the MetroWest bureau also plans to put on a series of seminars.

The aim is to help local businesses think in advance about what they might need to do to roll out the red carpet, from having a translator on call to expanding the breakfast menu, he said.

“Shopping is their number-one activity,” Nicholl said. “We see a lot of alignment with MetroWest.”

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@ hotmail.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misspelled the name of a consulting firm. It is Elixure.