Staff Report


With the Chinese New Year approaching in mid-February, expect to see an increase in Chinese visitors throughout the month as they get a long holiday, according to Robert Ayres, a Santa Ynez Valley native who pursued a 35-year career in China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

“Their Chinese New Year is like our Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year all rolled into one. The Chinese love to take advantage of their holiday, and our area can do more to make them feel welcome,” Ayres said.

Ayres, with his wife Guifen Wen, gave an informal talk to about 25 business owners and community members about the importance of basic Chinese cultural knowledge and language skills that can be used to attract Chinese visitors and create sales opportunities.

Business owners and community members received a “cheat sheet” of Mandarin phrases to help them welcome Chinese customers.

“When people visit foreign countries, they gravitate towards places that are comfortable and have information in their language, so think about that as business owners. What you would want the Chinese customers to see? They appreciate the signage and gestures that make them feel at home,” he said.

California was the top U.S. destination for Chinese visitors in 2015, according to Visit California, and the Solvang Chamber of Commerce wants to ensure that local business owners are aware of all the opportunities to increase their business by learning who is visiting.

Typically the Chinese New Year, a day to celebrate harvest and honor ancestors, is celebrated at the end of winter in preparation for the spring. This year the holiday falls on Feb. 16. It is also referred to as the Lunar New Year because Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam also celebrate this time of year.

Several business owners expressed interest in learning how to market their products effectively and how to increase Chinese tourists’ visit time.

“Robert and Guifen provided valuable insight to the Chinese visitor and how to make their experience in Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley exceed their expectations,” said Daniel Lahr, sales and special programs manager for Solvang Conference and Visitor’s Bureau.

The Solvang CVB is looking into several ways to help increase the welcome for Chinese visitors, especially during the Chinese New Yea, Lahr added.

According to Visit California, Chinese visitors stay an average of 12.5 nights in the state, spending an average of $2,090. The gross domestic product of China increased 6.7 percent in the first half of 2016, with an additional 6 percent expected for 2017-18. In addition, VisitCA is seeing people under 35 years old outspending their elders as China’s middle class grows rapidly.

“China is an economic powerhouse as disposable income and consumer spending continue to soar. The market remains a critical focus for Visit California, which operates five offices across the region in Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Chengdu and Guangzhou,” according to VisitCA’s economic report.

To learn more about Chinese New Year, visit