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La Jolla merchants ‘explore’ China; Experts share tourism tips at business breakfast

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San Diego Tourism Authority’s Brian Hilemon shows La Jolla merchants commercials financed by his organization to promote San Diego in China.

The second Business4Breakfast staged by the restructured La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) March 19 shined a spotlight on Chinese tourism in San Diego, advising La Jolla merchants how to tap into this huge, but largely unnoticed, market opportunity.

Gathered in a banquet room at the Grande Colonial Hotel, about 40 retail and restaurant reps seemed delighted and surprised when they watched three San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA)-financed TV commercials currently airing in China, one in English and two in Chinese. The spots branded San Diego as “The Gem of Calfiornia” and one — featuring Paralympian Alana Nichols — even promoted La Jolla exclusively.

Brian Hilemon, SDTA’s director of marketing partnerships, said his association spends more than $1 million per year marketing San Diego to China as a vacation destination — including foundational public relations, travel trade efforts and direct consumer advertising.

More than 124,000 Chinese visitors stayed overnight in San Diego in 2017, according to Hilemon, spending $233 million — an amount he predicted to increase 74 percent by 2022.

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“China is one of the fastest-growing markets into California, and Chinese visitors spend an average of $1,500 in San Diego per visit, which is higher than any other key market,” Hilemon said.

The La Jolla merchants also heard from Eddie Davis, head of U.S. sales for Alipay, the mobile payment system introduced by Alibaba (China’s amazon.com equivalent) to the U.S. in 2017 and which Davis said is currently used by 5 percent of the globe’s population.

Davis described Alipay as “like ApplePay for China – except for a lot bigger.” He said to “imagine Yelp, Visa and PayPal combined into one.”

“We are a payment method, so ultimately, that is what happens,” said Davis, whose office is in San Francisco. “But we also have a free marketing platform, so when tourists come here, they open up our app to look for places to come eat, shop and experience.”

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Davis said Alipay is building out a revised San Diego map for Chinese tourists, and offered La Jolla merchants the opportunity to be included in it. Currently, he said, about 500 San Diego businesses are Alipay-enabled — including the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld and the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier — though he couldn’t say how many actively accept it.

There is a per-transaction fee associated with accepting Alipay, which Davis described as “similar to a credit card, but less,” quoting about 1.5 percent per transaction as opposed to Visa’s 2.3 percent plus $.10 per transaction.

Following the breakfast, LJVMA executive director Jodi Rudick said a couple of merchants told her they intended to sign up immediately. “We know the impact of international tourism and want to know that we are welcoming people from all the globe,” she said.

The next Business4Breakfast meeting is 8 a.m. Tuesday, April 16, at a location to be announced. Aimed at small businesses, it will address how to know when it’s necessary to hire help. Details will be posted at lajollabythesea.com


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