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Are you ready for Chinese tourists, US travel agents?

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Last December, China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) added the United State into the official tourism destination list reported by XinhuaNet. Early this month, CNTA head Qiwei Shao (邵琪伟) and U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announced that Chinese citizens will be able to travel to US in tours from June. 17 2008. Travel agents from Beijing (北京), Tianjin (天津), Shanghai (上海), Jiangsu(江苏), Zhejiang(浙江), Hunan(湖南), Hubei(湖北), Heibei(河北) and Guangdong(广东) are in the first list that eligible to send tours to the States. These tours will be the “legitimated” tourists for the first time. Before U.S. become a travel destination, most of the tourists applied for business visa (B1 or B2) to get into the States.

According to data of US commerce department, there were more than 320,000 leisure visitors to US in 2006. These visitors were said to “have spent trememdous amount of money in US”. Let’s do an easy math problem: suppose the number of visitor to US increases by 25% compared to 2006, it will be 400,000 in 2008. According to travel agent, the average cost for a typical tour package per person is 25,000 RMB (apprx. $3, 570 USD). If eachvisitor spends 1,000 USD in the States besides the “all-inclusive” tour cost in shopping or casino, the Chinese visitor will spend total 1.8 billion in the States this year.

But I have to say the estimation of “1,000 USD for shopping” is very very conservative. Last year, Chinese spent $8 billion on luxury goods last year, accounting for 18% of the world’s total, the World Luxury Association says. Russell Flannery from Forbes didn’t say how much this 8 billion USD was spend outside of China where brand luxury goods are relative cheaper oversea.

Although 2 billion USD seems not like a big pie in the 90+ billion online travel industry, when you see the number by travel destinations by city, it is something. According to GNS Travel & Tour, a travel agent that is running tours for Chinese visitor in US, most of the visitors are going to visit East Coast: New York, Washington D.C. , Philidelpihia, West Coast: San Francisco, Los Angeles (things to do), Las Vegas (things to do), and islands of Hawaii (Honolulu Things to Do). It is estimated that by 2011, over 580,000 Chinese tourists will visit US annually.

But in 2006, there are already 1.9 million Chinese visited Europ. The most popular country is England in Chinese visitor. The most popular travel information website Go2EU in Chinese provides practical travel tips and guides such as how to get a visa, how to book hotels in London, what are the attractions for independent travelers. The most popular tags are “Rome” and “Paris” for cities and “Italy”, “England”, “Gemany”, “France” for countries. US is less popular than “Span”. The everage cost for a Europe tour is 1,500-2,000 USD per person. The bottleneck of China outbound travel to US is visa application which involves a long lead time interview appointment and high reject rate. But there are good enough of number of Chinese want to see US regardless of the complicated procedure.

So US travel agents, are you ready for Chinese visitors?

Data from the post are from this report in Chinese


An image of Jiuzhaigou I took last Oct. Hope this “heaven on earth” can be accessed again soon!


Vacation Search Engine Launched

Thursday, May 15th, 2008 launched its public beta version on May 14. Users can search “hotel” and “things to do” with a theme-based filter, such as family friendly, pet friendly and even girls getaway. It is a travel planning service. Budget Travel called it “a clever twist on travel planning”. Read Write Web has a very detailed description on how this Semantic Travel Search Engine works from algorithm level. The exmaple Ontology can give you an idea about how the a “kid friendly hotel” is determined from 400,000 hotels in the largest database Uptake has.

I just tried the new launched “girls getaway things to do ” in Las Vegas. Four of the top five results it recommended are Museums. Hmm… it is interesting. If I take a vacation in Las Vegas with my husband, I don’t think we will go to more than one museum. But with my girl friends, It is very likely that we will go from museum to museum. I want to check out Guggenheim Hermitage Museum next time.

Uptake is formerly named Kango. Due to a name dispute with a classifield site called Kaango, it has to change from Kango to Uptake. It launched a private beta in Dec 2007. Now, user can try the product out without a password required.

First Image from Wenchuan after earthquake, and help needed.

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

This is the first image sent from the 5.12 Sichuan earthquake center Wenchuan by a Xinhua reporter at 12pm May 14 2008. Kids are expecting…

Relief for Wenchuan Earthquake Needed: 

CN Reviews has an up-to-date list of more than 24 charities that involved in helping Sichuan earthquake. Choose the way you are most comfortable to help it.

Reschedule your trip to Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanxi and Gansu in China

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

A terrible tragedy- a 7.8 earthquake happend in Wenchuan, Sichuan province China at 2:38pm on May 12 2008. More than 9000 death have been reported on May 13 2008 7am. More than 60,000 people were trapped and disconnected. China national TV station CCTV news channel broadcasts the after-tragedy rescue live. We watched TV for about 3 hours last night.

The center of the earthquake Wenchuan (汶川) is the home to lovely Grand Pandas. It is also a popular travel destination. It is reported that the roads to the best attraction of the province – Jiuzhaigou are seriously damaged in the earthquake. Jiuzhaigou is about 450 km away from Chengdu and around 300 km away from Wenchuan.

The neighborhood provinces: Yunnan (云南), Shanxi (陕西) and Gansu(甘肃) recorded death in this earthquake. Railways, freeways, power plants, telecom signal towers were damaged. More than 2,800 cellphone signal towers in Sichuan province collaped. Quite some cities and towns near the earthquake center lost electricity. Weather forcast says it will rain in the coming 3 days. So bad.

I would recommend you to change your travel plan to west China in the coming week.

sichuan earthquake, china

The scene of a high school after earthquake in Doujiangyan (都江堰) which is famous for a dam built in 2000+ years ago. 100 km away from Chendu.

sichuan earthquake, china

This Ming Dynasty tower in Sichuan Mingzhong city. The tower was 12 floors in the past 400+ years and now only 6 levels left.

Most Searched Hotel Brands in China

Monday, May 12th, 2008

China’s No. 1 search engine has a datacenter providing searching related data for a dozen of major industries, such as real estate, travel, auto, online games, finance, etc. In a report released in April 2008 about travel industry, there are some very interesting data.

For example, what are the most searched hotel brands in by Chinese netizens? Here are the original data in Chinese. Top 3 are: Shanghai Jinjiang Hotels, Beijing Tourism Group (BTG) Hotels and Shangri-La Hotels. Interesting enough, ony the the first and second are China local brands. The rest are international brands.

1 上海锦江酒店
2 首都旅游国际酒店
3 香格里拉酒店
4 喜达屋酒店
5 雅高酒店
6 万豪国际酒店
7 洲际酒店
8 凯悦酒店
9 凯宾斯基
10 希尔顿酒店

Shanghai Jinjiang Hotel is a HongKong stock exchange listed company (ticket “2006“). It is the largest hotel group in China with 270 hotel properties and 54,000 hotel rooms, including luxury 5 star hotels (Jinjiang Hotel) and budget hotels (Jinjiang Star). Beijing Toruism Group is listed in Shanghai stock exchange (ticket ”600258)and owns more than 200 hotel properties across China.

No. 5 is the top hotel operator Accor (brands: Ibis and Novotel) from Australia. According to Lang LaSalle Hotels’ annual Top Operator Survey, In 2007, Australia’s largest hotel operators, Accor Asia Pacific Corporation (AAPC) and Stella Hospitality Group both increased rooms under management by concentrating on the serviced apartment sector – both primarily in the 4-star arena.” While according to, an Autstralia hotel booking site, Quest Apartment is Australasia’s largest operator in the serviced apartment sector, with over 110 complexes for unique Australia, New Zealand and Fiji accommodation.

No. 6 to 10 are JW Marriot (万豪), InterContinental (洲际), Hyatt (凯悦), Kempinski (凯宾斯基) and Hilton (希尔顿).

Brands like Radisson and Regal didn’t make to the top 10 list in China.

Radisson Plaza (xing guo hotel) in Shanghai: 兴国宾馆

A sign in Ridisson Plaza (and Garden) in Shanghai closed to my place. It s a very nice garden with villas.

Radisson Plaza (xing guo hotel) in Shanghai: 兴国宾馆 1号楼

Building No.1 in Radisson Plaza Garden , a historical building constructed in 1930s.

More data about this travel industry report in English language can be found here.

A Day Trip to Suzhou- “East Venice”

Friday, May 9th, 2008

As planed, we went to Suzhou, Jiangsu province last Sat. We took a 8:58 am bullet train, China Highspeed Railway (CHR) at Shanghai Railway Station and arrived at Suzhou in 40 minutes. It stopped at Kushan (昆山) for 2 minutes. The bullet train is the best option to travel between Shanghai and Suzhou: 26RMB/person, safe, fast and reliable schedule (no traffic jam).

I’ve been to Suzhou once 8 years’ before. In my memory, it is a lovely small city. I had a great time walking around from one garden to the other.

But this time when we walked out of the Suzhou train station, it took us around 30 mintues to figur out where to take a taxi or a bus. Taxi drivers refused to take us to nearby place, and finally we were in a bus but the route on the map is not correct and we got off the wrong station and had to take a 3-wheel bike. At around 11am, we arrived at The Humble Administrator Garden (拙政园) historial street. Suzhou Museum, Lion Forest Garden (狮子园) and Humble Administrator Garden are in this neighbouhood.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆We started from the new wing of Suzhou Museum, which is designed by Guangzhou born American Chinese architect Ieoh Ming Pei. Mr. I. M. Pei spent a few years of his childhood in his family’s estate, the Lion Forest Garden in Suzhou, now a World Heritage Site. Suzhou Museum is the second architecture designed by I.M. Pei in Mainland China besides of Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山饭店),a four star hotel in Fragrant Hill in Beijing. I was attracted by the big name of Pei and visited (took a look) Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山饭店) in 2000 when I was a student. I didn’t have the “wow” feeling at the design but I bet it to be a nice place to stay for leisure and relaxing. The other mater piece by I. M. Pei I desire to visit is the Pyramids of the Louvre, in Paris.

Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山�店)

A quick image tour of Suzhou Museum:

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

from the outter garden, the building is the entrance main hall.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

The interior garden, the building is the back of the main hall.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

A modernlized “art of the window”. In Classical Gardens of Suzhou, there are always a scenery out of the each window. Typical scenery elements include: a Taihu stone, some bamboom, a small pond, a tree, a Chinese orchid, etc.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

In the hallway.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

A modernlized and abstracted version of “Fake Hills”(假山). The traditional “Fake Hills” are made of stones from TaiHu Lake. The natural shape of the stone insprite people’s imaginary. Lion Forest Garden is famous for the thousands of “lion-shape” like stones.

Similar to Fragrant Hill Hotel, the Suzhou Museum adopts the typical colors of the whitewashed plaster wall, and te dark gray clay tile as primary colors. These are the color you will see in Suzhou city. I like the modern design, but not really the whitewashed palster wall. Why? It is too difficult to maintain. The museum is less than 2 years’ old but I can see the rain washed stains on the wall. The air condition is just not good. But the facilities inside the museum are world class, except the descriptions on the exhibits are too short, only titles.

The other wing of the musuem is Prince Zhong’s Masion, originally a part of the Humble Administrator Garden. It is a fun exeperience to walk through a door and go back to several hundred years’ ago. Strongly recommend if you want to see something different in Suzhou.


We spent about 2 hours in the museum (20RMB) and went to a nearby restaurant called Wumen People (吴门人家, 苏州平江区潘儒巷31号), a top 3 reviewed restaurant in

Tiger Hill

In the afternoon, we visited Tiger Hill (虎丘). Tiger Hill is famous for a mystery of a tomb of King of Wu (AC 514-496). The park is in the northwest edge of old Suzhou city, but keep in mind that Suzhou is small and it only took us less than 20 RMB to get there from the museum in the east of Suzou. Visiting Tiger Hill in a national holiday was a disaster: too croweded. So my good impression on Tiger Hill was gone.

Tiger Hill Suzhou

I adore this! It was written by a calligraphy master named Yan Zhenqinq (颜真卿) (AC 709- 785) in Tang Dynasty. In fact, only “剑池“ are original, “虎丘” were rewritten by Zhang Zhongyu (章仲玉) in Ming Dynasty. It is said the the tomb of King Wu is under the cliff befine the sign. (60 RMB/person, free audio guide with 400 RMB deposit, 2-3 hours)

Canals of Old Suzhou

Good news.: one big change of Suzhou since my last visit is the improvement of water quality in the canals. Suzhou was described as Venice of The East (v.s. the west Venice in Italy) by Marco Polo in 1276. Today, the interconnected system of water of 2500 years’ history is back to work and green again.  48 points of interests are linked and accessible by water, including ancient city gates, bridges and gardens. A way to see the city but avoid the crowds and traffic. We visited a friend at his condo where a cannal/river is running next to his back yard.  As a proud Suzhou resident, he kept encouraging us to move to Suzhou!

 Dream Vacation?

I would love to visit Venice of Italy and Amsterdam of Netherlands to see the “water city” of West.

travel blogger wanted in New Media era

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Elliott Ng from Uptake Blog has a last minute call for a travel blogger. If the blogger can convince Via Hjortur Smarason at Marketing Safari, then the lucky he/she will be able to join an “all-expenses included cruise tour” with 15-25 other journalists in iceland. It is a 4-day sailing adventure trip.

Hjortur explains the how this work:

They are inviting journalists on their first tour on the 26th of May 2008. I have suggested they invite at least one blogger as well and now I am searching for that one blogger. If you are interested in a four day adventure cruise in Iceland on the 26th of May and are available from May 25th until June 1st, send me an email and convince me you’re the blogger we are looking for. I will need information about you, your network and the readers to your blog (who, how many, where from, age, status etc). My email address is hjortur.smarason (at) gmail (dot) com. Please send me your info no later than midnight Thursday night (May 8th).

More details check Breidafjordur Nature Cruise.

Iceland becomes a much well-known country to many Chinese recently in Feb. 2008 after proud singer Bjork’s Shanghai concert. I think Bjork could the people of year 2008. It seems to me that she was the first to raise the Tibetan ”wave“ around the world.

It is too late for me. Good luck to the lucky one! It must be a terrific tour if you are going to see these:

So, what about a driving trip in France?

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

France is famous for biking (Tour de France), and high speed bullet train. How about driving in France? Here are some information I found very helpful:

France has a well-developed system of highways. Most of the freeway (autoroute) links are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don’t lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance. All toll stations accept major credit cards, or you can use the automatic booth, but only if your card is equipped with a chip.

Roads range from the narrow single-lane roads in the countryside to major highways. Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centres tend to be unwieldy for cars. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. It often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.

So, as French movies suggest, it might alsways a better choice to ride a bike when you are in country side, but take trains when you want to travel from Paris to Marseilles. But if you want to travel from Toulouse to Bordeaux, driving could be a not bad choice if you’ve already rent a car, as the 250 km road is all autoroute which means they are FREE according to the review here.

This post is brought to you by a friend at

Self-drive: a new lifestyle in China

Monday, May 5th, 2008

“self-drive tour” (自驾游) is a new type of travel mode that is getting very popular in China in the last decade. If you are from a country that takes owning a car for granted, then it will be a bit difficult for you to understand it.

According to statistics from Austria Auto Club (VCÖ) in mid 2007, there are around 9,000 million private owned sedans in the world. This number was 5,000 million in 1995. The distribution is very un-even. There are 2,310 million in EU, 2, 280 million in US, but there are only 29 million in China – a country of 1.3 billion population. Avery 1,000 people own 24 vehicles in China, but 775 vehicles in US.

So, owning a car, driving it out in weekends or holidays for a leisure trip with families and friends is a new lifstyle that doesn’t exit 10 years’ ago. I grow up with the concept that a driver is the master of a car, he/she decides where we go. We should never interrupt when he/she is driving. Today, everyone (not really) wants to master his/her own car – the spirit of “self-drive”. But when you read an advertising selling a “self-drive tour”, a travel agent is actually selling you a “hotel booking service” for maybe one major reason: online booking is still in its infancy stage in China. In a “self-drive“ trip, you are supposed to enjoy the freedom of driving, which I have to say it is not that enjoyable at present because the roads in remote area is much less developed than the fancy-looking sedans sold in big cities.

To enjoy the freedom of driving, Germany (Berlin Hotels) is a good destination for a road trip.

High-speed vehicular traffic has a long tradition in Germany given that the first motorway (Autobahn) in the world, the AVUS, and the world’s first automobile were developed and built in Germany. Germany possesses one of the most dense road systems of the world. German motorways have no blanket speed limit. However, posted limits are in place on many dangerous or congested stretches as well as where traffic noise or pollution poses a problem.

My husband took a business trip to Hildesheim – a small city about 330 km away from Frankfurt early this year. His impressions on the “freedom of driving” are : 1. he was constantly afraid of not driving far enough as he was driving a super small/eco car – SMart (a product of Swatch and Mecede-Benz), 2. the print on the road sign is too small to read and it is very easy to miss an intersaction. I guess that if you rent a good car and have good eyesight, you will have greater chance to enjoy the self-drive trip. How about a road trip from Munich to Köln?

My Last Minute Trip Plan to Suzhou, China

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

May 1st is a public holiday in China, as it is International Labor’s Day which is originated from a labor dispute in the United States (although it is not a public holiday in the States today). lol. We had a rough plan to visit a nearby city in the three-day long weekend. However, when we were on elong and ctrip (the two major travel booking sites in China), almost all the hotels under 400 RMB in the downtown area were fully booked, even through May 8. Obviously, there are quite some tourists around the country taking vacations during this long weekend.

The weather in May is so beautiful – warm enough to walk outside without wearing layers of clothes, but not to hot to get sweaty easily. So, it is a good time to visit East China cities: Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, Yangzhou, and other tourism destinations such as Thousand Islands Lake(qiandao hu, 千岛湖), Putuo Mountain (putuo shan, 普陀山). This beautiful weather will continue until the last week of June – a tip to plan your trip to East China.

So, I want to get out, but don’t want to over-spend for our outing. My last minute holiday trip plan starts from cutting the trip length. Suzhou is only 50 miles away from Shanghai and it takes 37 minutes by train. So we cut the 3-day trip to 1 day long hour trip. The last train from Suzhou to Shanghai is 10pm. We can be home before midnight.

My plan is to visit a 2000+ year old historical site called Huqiu (虎丘, means Tiger Hill) + Suzhou Museum which has a new wing designed by Chinese American architect, Pritzker Architecture Prize winner,  Ieoh Ming Pei (贝聿铭), + one of the gardens. The other important “mission” is to try the local Su style food. The restaurants can be old style, the service can be bad, but as long as the food are good, we won’t complaint!

It will be a cheap holiday trip. My secret of a bargain holiday is to think about what are the most desired things to do in your vacation. Then plan around the objective/goal, the earlier the better, the more flexible, the cheaper.  I will share my photo trip when we are back.