L.A. Museums Sign On To ‘China Ready’ Program In Bid To Draw Tourists


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By Mike Boehm

Los Angeles Times


Milly Wu marched through the J. Paul Getty Museum’s galleries of 19th century European paintings, stopping just long enough to frame Monets, Manets and, of course, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Irises” with her smartphone camera.

With a series of clicks, masterpieces became souvenirs to share with her friends back home in Hangzhou, China.

But when she reached the threshold of a gallery filled with opulent French furnishings from the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, the 11-year-old paused and let the camera dangle.

“Wah,” she gasped — Chinese for “wow.”

“It’s very beautiful,” said her dad, Will Wu, an information technology professional who used to work for Hewlett-Packard and speaks some English. “Mr. Getty had a great eye for this type of item.”

The Getty and other Los Angeles museums increasingly have their eyes on people like the Wus, who embody the rapid growth in tourism from mainland China. The Getty has taken the lead, aiming to leverage such advantages as free admission, a striking garden to go with the art masterpieces, and a tram ride to a hilltop perch in Brentwood that affords sweeping vistas of L.A.

To capture its share, the Getty recently engaged consultants in China who are helping it establish a presence on Weibo and WeChat, the leading social media sites for mainland Chinese. It also piggybacks on the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board’s efforts to promote an assortment of L.A. destinations for visitors interested in art and culture.

With a dozen other L.A. cultural organizations, most of them museums, the Getty has taken advantage of “China Ready,” a seminar program the tourism board launched last year to help businesses of all kinds become magnets for Chinese vacationers.

Those that complete the program are designated “China Ready” — a seal of approval they can use in overtures to the Chinese travel market.

Despite such efforts, not even the Getty seems likely to establish itself as a leading destination for group tours that send travelers through Southern California by the busload on itineraries usually planned by tour organizers in China. In 2008 the Getty Center became the first L.A. museum to host a pleasure-tour excursion group from the mainland after the People’s Republic of China lifted restrictions on nonbusiness travel. But U.S. tour operators who specialize in handling the logistics for big group tours say that the main draws, especially for first-timers in L.A., continue to be theme parks, Hollywood, excursions to Las Vegas and Yosemite, and spending sprees in luxury shops and outlet malls.

“The Getty is impressive, it’s beautiful. I think it’s a shame it’s not featured in the itineraries right now,” said Harry Chen, owner of Joy Holiday, a Bay Area-based company that regularly runs tours of L.A. “A minority of people are going to be interested in a museum. (Others) love to be at the most popular places, taking pictures.”

Daniel Shen, president of Temple City-based Lion Tours, said the dynamic is different for student groups that mainly come in the summer. “Every one of them that I handle from Asia requests the Getty Museum,” he said. Students typically come for longer stays and have time to explore L.A. in greater depth, he said, making a museum visit a natural.

Even without the big tour groups, the Getty and other art museums have a chance to attract increasing numbers of Chinese visitors — albeit more likely by the carload than the busload. “Free individual travelers,” a term for people who make their own arrangements and set their own itineraries, are seen as the future of Chinese tourism to the United States.

A new agreement with the People’s Republic is expected to generate many return trips: Instead of visas having to be renewed each year, with the waiting and expense that entailed, visas from China to the U.S. are now good for 10 years.

Visitors “will have time on their hands to discover places that fit whatever their interests are,” said Chen, the Bay Area-based tour operator. “The extension of the visas will really help places such as the Getty Museum.”

According to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce, visits from mainland China to Los Angeles rose 20 percent in 2014. The numbers are expected to continue growing by at least 10 percent annually.

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