Meet Chinese tourists in U.S. Museums


At the end of 2014, the United States government formally broadened the fixed number of years of travel and business visa for Chinese tourists, allowing 10 years before visa renewal rather than one year, as the number of Chinese tourists has multiplied in recent years. According to the United States Commerce Department, high growth rates and large growth volumes are expected in 2015 for China (17%), and the number of Chinese visitors in the U.S. is expected to increase by a total of 2.8 million visitors, a 129 percent increase through 2020, and produce the second-largest number of additional visitors behind Mexico.

According to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, China was the most dynamic market driving international visitation with a year-over-year growth of 13.6%, officially becoming L.A.’s number two international market, behind Mexico, with 779,000 visitors.

The Official Tourism Site of Washington DC states that the top overseas market is China, with around three hundred thousand visitors in 2015, a 36% increase over the previous year.

Additionally, according to NYC & Company, in 2015 China showed the largest rate of growth, a 12 percent increase to an estimated 852,000 visitors to New York City.

Who are they?

The visitors came from a remote oriental country, China, a developing country with economy rapid development. In this country, personal wealth is ballooning accompanied by a slow increase in national social standards, and international cultural awareness. Currently, some Chinese have enough income to support them to travel abroad. The United States is one of the most popular travel destinations for the Chinese.

In addition, the visitors contain a wide range of ages and all sorts of social identities, as well as a variety of educational backgrounds. At the same time, they come from different provinces of China, speaking their own dialect. However, most of them can speak Mandarin and read Chinese, and some Chinese tourists have basic English skills.

Chinese tourists shopaholics, but are now becoming more interested in world cultures. In the Metropolitan Museum’s 2014 fiscal year, the Chinese for the first time became the largest segment of its foreign visitors; the number more than quadrupled over five years, from 50,000 in fiscal year 2009, to 209,000 in fiscal year 2014. Meanwhile, most of the Chinese tourists are visiting the museum in the form of groups, tours, and families. In addition, the rise of independent Chinese tourists has appeared over the past couple years.


What do they need

In order to guide museums facing the gradually expanding Chinese tourist market, museums must try to understand the needs of this special tourist group.

First, Chinese visitors need to be understood by the museum staff. They came to an unfamiliar location with different culture, language, behavior, and habits. Their subconscious is uncomfortable and uneasy. At this monument, the thing they need is a friendly atmosphere from the outside world. In particular, they will hope the museum staff can rationally understand some of their “disrespectful behavior”. Staff, please try to do transposition consideration, then maybe you can get more understanding from your heart and brain.

Second, Chinese visitors need respect from the museum. There is no doubt that they brought enormous economic benefits to the museum. However, they are not ATMs; they need some respect to correspond with their pay. Such as staff attitude, exhibition design to avoid discriminatory cultural appropriation, and extreme object statement.

Third, they need practical and urgent need reflected in providing friendly and suited services. For example, they need effective guidebook and electronic guide apps with Chinese language that highlight their interests. In addition, museums can provide hot water, tea, and catering services as a warm measure for them.


What were some museums doing?

Some museums offer introduction videos, guide tours, floor plans, collection highlights, audio guides, guide apps, and brochures all in Chinese (Mandarin). For example, The Metropolitan Museum (the Met), as an internationally reputed museum, is constantly improving their service level for Chinese tourists. The Met also offers volunteer-led one-hour walking tours of collection highlights in Mandarin. In addition, there are two museums in the Smithsonian that offer Mandarin tour through the foreign language speakers program: Air and Space Museum and Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art.

In addition, some museums launched account on Chinese social media platforms. For example, the Smithsonian Institution, the Met and MOMA launched accounts on Weibo, the Chinese-language social media site.

Finally some special services were provided for Chinese tourists. For instance, some museums accept UnionPay, the Chinese mainland’s only inter-bank network, for Chinese tourists’ payment. In addition, the Asian Art Museum provides Asian cuisine at the museum’s restaurant.

Some museums take an active part in the Chinese tourist service certification program. For example, there are two museums that became DC’s “Welcom (欢迎) China” certified members: International Spy Museum and Newseum. In addition, the Asian Art Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, and six other museums were signed on to “China Ready”, a program to attract Chinese tourists as far as possible.

Museums must constantly upgrade their services and management level when faced with the gradually expanding Chinese market. In addition, this is an important opportunity for museums walk to internationalization in the future.


Power Point: meet-chinese-tourist-in-u-s-museum


Further Reading

American Museum & Chinese Tourists

As Chinese Tourism Increases, American Museums Adapt

China Ready Program

Chinese Family Travelers Take to Museums

Feature: Chinese Tourists in US From Shopaholics to Culture Lovers

Forecast of International Travelers to The United States by Top Origin Countries

LA Museums Sign on to Chia Ready Program in Bid To Draw Tourists

Smithsonian Foreign Language Speakers

Translation for Museums Boosts International Marketing

Us Commerce Department Releases Six-Year Forecast for International Travel To The United States 2015-2020


6 thoughts on “Meet Chinese tourists in U.S. Museums

  1. alw888

    The presentation gave me a better understanding of what it is like to be a Chinese (or other foreign) tourist. When you told us about the museum and signage in Chinese, I had little idea what information you meant to convey. By knowing more about other cultures and their preferences for food, tours, and guidebook materials, I believe, that American museum professionals can facilitate programs and resources that Chinese tourists will find engaging. Learning more about cultural practices and languages, also seems to enrich museum exhibits by inspiring new ways to foster comfortable environments that can ideally be enjoyable for universal audiences. I am curious how are Chinese (and other international) museum professionals working to facilitate comfortable experiences for tourists from English speaking countries?


  2. michelle

    Thank you for your post. I appreciate your insight on this audience that many of us museum educators overlook. Working at the Spy Museum, I come across visitors from all over the world. Even the Spanish speakers can feel uncomfortable in museums because the text is mainly in English. As you mentioned in your post, some museums do offer some amenities for some nonenglish speakers, like translated museum guides but that doesn’t really allow the audience to dive deep into the content the museum has to offer. Understandably, it is difficult to accommodate for all languages and cultures, but more action needs to be done to ensure the comfort for all visitors. For example, I’m not sure if this is already being used but, some museums are using audio tours for their museums, what if those audio tours could be translated into multiple languages?


  3. tenebristic

    I appreciated the new perspective from your talk and post. One of my biggest take-aways is that America starts installing hot water devices for tea. There has been many a time when I wasn’t feeling well or it was later in the day and I wanted hot water for tea instead of the ever-accessible coffee. Adding these hot water dispensers would benefit people who can’t have caffeine for health reasons, individuals who don’t have access to it at their homes, and it would be great for snacks like instant oatmeal. I’m curious, where are these dispensers located in public in China? What do they look like? What safety measures are in place so no one accidentally gets burned?
    That is one small aspect that we can use to make visitors feel welcome and open our awareness to other ways we can welcome people from near and far to our museums.


  4. ninasgraham

    This was definitely a interesting take on American Museums, and the impact it has on travelers throughout the world. I never critically thought about the necessities tourist may need when coming to visit museums. In addition, I never knew that Chinese tourism was at its highest surge in recent years. With that being said, I think its necessary for museums and other educational institutions to offer specific programs and tours in different languages in order to cater to every visitor.


  5. katebreichert

    What wonderful, practical solutions to help us, as museum educators, think about the needs of our audiences joining us from other countries. This actually made me think back to our class the very first week of our MEP summer semester where we went to the National Gallery of Art and at one point the idea came up that there was art in that museum that came from China, visited annually by Chinese tourists, whose might be looking for a different museum experience than some other patrons (we were talking about how to arrange a museum, and thinking about how you might arrange by time period, art style, or country of origin, for example, and how these tourist might like the opportunity to see all of the works they came to see in one room). It’s so important to think about what it is that visitors who have made such a commitment to visit your museum from such long distances are looking to get out of their experience, and your insight is incredibly helpful for that!


  6. museumpeople

    Thanks so much for bringing this important growing audience to our attention, and helping us think through how we can welcome them and help facilitate rewarding experiences for them.



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