Calgary tourism groups court visitors from China

Travel Alberta has been holding "China Ready" workshops to help local businesses attract tourists from China.

Calgary businesses learn Chinese customs and etiquette

Group tourism specialist Sandy Wilde says Heritage Park is ready for Chinese tourists. (Falice Chin/CBC)

The tourism industry in Calgary is saying "ni hao" to a new wave of Chinese tourists ahead of Hainan Airlines' inaugural direct flight from Beijing on June 30.

The thrice-a-week, 13-hour non-stop flights from the Chinese capital to the Calgary International Airport are expected to bring in 20,000 new visitors to the province annually and with them -— millions in tourism dollars.

"Last year we got 3,000 people, and this year my target is more than 5,000 people," said Sonya Wu, who works for Westar Travel, a Calgary-based tour operator that offers trips through the Rockies with services in Mandarin.

"Chinese marketing is growing up very quickly so every year we get like double and double the number of customers."

Travel Alberta has been holding 'China Ready' workshops to provide tips on how to serve the new market of Chinese tourists. (Falice Chin/CBC)

'China Ready' workshops

To help local businesses prepare for the upcoming rush of tourists, Travel Alberta has been holding "China Ready" workshops throughout the province.

During these sessions hotels, tour operators and other attendees learn about Chinese culture and etiquette.

"The Chinese market is a huge market already for us in this province," said Karen Soyka, a vice president with Travel Alberta.

"It's really about understanding some of the cultural differences around Chinese travellers — things that they might be looking for when they come here," she said.

Some of the concrete tips from the "China Ready" workshop include:

  • Always raise the rim of your glass lower than a more senior person's glass

  • Use both hands to receive business cards, gifts and money

  • Include lucky numbers such as 6 and 8 in the price

  • Include rice as an option at most meals

Calgary Marriott Downtown says it's happy to accommodate Chinese tourists.

"We've done practices with breakfast setups and sight tours for people from China and so far it's been great," said Tiffany Richards, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

"The timing of this is actually ideal," said Richards. "Traditionally we are a corporate hotel, being in a downtown location. Oil and gas is our primary segment and with what's happening with the economy we've had the need to diversify so this allows us to capitalize on a new market which is pretty exciting for us."

A group of Chinese tourists reportedly cleaned out the Coach outlet store at CrossIron Mills recently. (

Shop, shop, shop

The average Chinese tourist will spend around $5,500 per trip to North America, according to the China Ready workshop. Combine that with the culture of gift-giving, and "shopping" becomes the biggest buzzword among industry insiders.

Starting July 1 — a day after Hainan's inaugural flight — CrossIron Mills will begin offering bus shuttles from the airport to the mega mall north of Calgary twice daily.

"We know when the shoppers come in here, they really like the Michael Kors, the Coach outlet, the Tommy Hilfiger," said Colton Fagan, tourism manager with CrossIron Mills.  

"It's a lot more expensive to get that material in China and from what I've talked to with friends, sometimes they can't get the highest quality."

The shopping frenzy has already begun, according to a Calgary Chinese website. In June, a group of Chinese tourists reportedly cleaned out the Coach outlet store at CrossIron Mills.

To accommodate foreign shoppers, an increasing number of locations, including Heritage Park, are now accepting UnionPay, the Chinese bank card used by millions.

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