Where are Chinese tourists going to next? Pop culture may hold some clues, from blockbuster rom-com 'Finding Mr. Right' to U.S. sitcom 'The Big Bang Theory.'
China is the source of most of the world's tourists as well as its biggest-spending travelers. In 2012 alone, 83 million Chinese went abroad and spent a whopping $102 billion, according to the most recent figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Now more than ever, popular culture is driving their decision making. Below are a few examples of how TV shows and hit movies are influencing Chinese tourists' travel choices.
Over the past two years, Seattle -- that rainy city in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. -- has seen a 90% rise in visitor numbers from China, local officials say.
The reason: the huge popularity of the Chinese romantic comedy 'Finding Mr. Right,' in which a woman from mainland China travels to Seattle to give birth. Directed by Xue Xiaolu and starring Tang Wei, the film has grossed more than $85 million in China since its release last year. (The movie's Chinese title translates literally to 'Beijing meets Seattle.')
The city has attracted so many Chinese tourists that CCTV, China's state broadcaster, sent a journalist to cover the city's New Year's Eve celebrations and a series of stories about the Pacific Northwest region.
Los Angeles has long been a favorite destination for Chinese tourists visiting the U.S. but lately, they've been asking for detours to nearby Pasadena to pay homage to their favorite sitcom, 'The Big Bang Theory.' Fans are requesting visits to places including the campus of California Institute of Technology as well as to a particular Cheesecake Factory outlet, which both figure prominently in the CBS sitcom that Chinese fans stream online.
'I've heard of tour guides being demanded by tourists that they go to those places,' said Sage Brennan, a Los Angeles-based retail consultant at China Luxury Advisors.
'The show has really taken off with the Chinese, and it has all these crazy repercussions. Brands can capitalize on this,' he added.
Officials said 708,000 travellers from mainland China visited the state in 2012, up from 517,000 the year before.
In the first 11 months of 2013, more than 4 million Chinese tourists visited South Korea, a 53% spike from the previous year due to the country easing visa restrictions to allow for freer travel from China.
But Wolfgang Arlt, of Germany's China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, says the popularity of Korean television series and movies have also influenced travelers. Popular series in China include 'The Heirs,' which featured South Korean heartthrob Lee Minho and last year became a huge hit on Youku, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube.
Thailand became a major destination for the Chinese in 2013, thanks in large part to the 2012 box-office hit ' Lost in Thailand,' a buddy-comedy that smashed box office records. The tiny island country of Mauritius hopes it can similar buzz when the movie 'Five Minutes to Tomorrow' is released later this year. A China-Japan co-production, the movie is about identical twin sisters who fall in love with the same man. In the first 10 months of 2013, more than 34,000 Chinese visited the country, an increase of 99% from the previous year. Mauritian tourist authorities hope the movie can spur 100,000 Chinese visitors 'in the foreseeable future.'
EUROPE AND THE U.S.
The U.S., U.K., France and Germany remain the most frequented destinations for Chinese who travel to the West, but the sights they flock to within those countries often are unique to Chinese culture. For instance, Karl Marx's birthplace in Trier, Germany, has long been a pilgrimage spot, while a willow tree in Cambridge, England, is a must-visit for bus tourists because of a well-known poem by Xu Zhimo, who studied at the city's famed university in the 1920s.
'It's like a parallel universe,' said Mr. Brennan in Los Angeles. 'Pop culture comes up again and again when we do our research. But the Chinese interpretation is always different.'
中国游客的下一个目的地在哪里呢？从流行文化中你或许能瞥见些许端倪，例如大热的浪漫喜剧电影《北京遇上西雅图》(Finding Mr. Right)、美国情景喜剧《生活大爆炸》(The Big Bang Theory)等等。
中国游客不仅数量上是世界第一，出手更是全球最阔绰。据联合国(United Nations)世界旅业组织(World Tourism Organization)的最新数据，仅2012年一年时间里，中国赴外游客就有8,300万人，总开支更是高达1,020亿美元。
洛杉矶一直是中国赴美游客的最爱，不过最近游客们还主动要求绕到附近的帕萨迪纳去看看，向他们喜爱的哥伦比亚广播公司(CBS)情景喜剧《生活大爆炸》（故事发生地即是帕萨迪纳）致敬。剧迷们要求参观加州理工学院(California Institute of Technology)校园、芝士蛋糕工厂(Cheesecake Factory)，这都是剧中人物经常出没的地点。
China Luxury Advisors驻洛杉矶零售顾问Sage Brennan称，他就曾经听说过有的客人要求导游带他们到这些地方看一看。
不过，德国研究机构中国出境游研究所(China Outbound Tourism Research Institute)的Wolfgang Arlt说，韩剧、韩国电影的热播也起到了拉拢游客的作用。去年由韩星李敏镐(Lee Minho)主演的热门韩剧《继承者们》(The Heirs)在中国视频网站优酷网(Youku)人气爆棚。
2013年泰国成了中国观光客眼中的大热旅游地，一定程度上应当感谢2012年的叫座影片《泰 》(Lost in Thailand)，这部“兄弟喜剧”不断冲刷着票房纪录。有了这样的榜样，弹丸岛国毛里求斯希望今年晚些时候上映的中日合拍片《深夜前的五分钟》(Five Minutes to Tomorrow)也能带给它好运。这部影片讲述的是一对同卵双胞胎姐妹爱上同一个男人的故事。2013年前10个月，超过3.4万中国游客来到这个国家观光，较上年同期高出99%。毛里求斯旅游业部门希望这部影片在可预见的未来吸引10万中国人到此一游。