SAN GABRIEL, Calif.–Martin Chang has been the owner of Health Food City in the suburbs of Los Angeles since 1982. He prides himself on developing relationships based on trust with his customers.
A few years ago, he started noticing a huge increase in Chinese tourists.
“Before, five, six, seven years ago you could see the tourists mostly came from major cities in China: Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai,” he said. “But right now, gradually you can see some smaller cities from the outskirts, smaller provinces, people coming in.”
A recent report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp (LAEDC) calculated that the number of Chinese tourists in LA County has nearly quadrupled—from 158,000 visitors in 2009 to 570,000 in 2013.
Cities with a high population of Chinese-Americans like San Gabriel near Los Angeles have benefitted. Visitors from China often use such areas as their “home base,” and then sightsee at popular LA tourist spots like Hollywood or Universal Studios during the day.
The San Gabriel Hilton is especially well known for the large number of Chinese tourists who stay there.
San Gabriel Square, known locally as the “Great Mall of China,” has drawn crowds of Chinese visitors since the 1990s.
Chinese travelers spend about $3,000 on each trip to California, more than visitors from any other country, according to data from the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.
Chang said wealthy Chinese stock up on high-price items like jewelry and watches because the prices are cheaper in the United States than in China, due to high import taxes. A lot of Chinese also invest in real estate in the United States while still living in China.
Chang has a large local clientele. But many Chinese tourists also come to his health food store instead of stores like Whole Foods because they can read his signs.
With all the recent tainted food scandals and false labeling in China, many tourists buy food from Chang’s store to take home—or even mail order from him. Chang does not import anything from China.
“That’s the reason why most of the Chinese come to the United States, go to Europe, go to New Zealand, any chance they can get. They will [take] quality products back to China.”
As Chinese are increasingly able and interested in traveling outside of China, American businesses like Chang’s continue to prosper.