What do Chinese travelers — America's fastest-growing tourist segment — want to see on vacation? Elite universities, of course.
Nine of 10 prospective Chinese visitors to the United States want to tour a university, according to a survey last year of several thousand by Attract China, which helps hospitality companies woo them.
Trademark Tours in Boston has seen its bookings from China triple since 2010. All its groups request its "Hahvahd" tour; just over half also see M.I.T.
Tour buses clogging the streets spurred Stanford to stop providing student-led tours to commercial groups last year and to cap the number of buses allowed on campus, said DJ Dull-MacKenzie, its director of visitor relations. His concern: becoming "the Disneyland of campuses."
Wang Yuntao, 29, who works for a state-owned bank in Xi'an, stopped at Stanford, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Southern California last fall while on a two-week visit. Why? "One reason is because they are famous. If you tour places that nobody's heard of, you can't brag about it."
So what did he like?
"American universities are much more open than Chinese ones," he said. "There are no walls. There is drinking water and free bikes for everyone."
And this: "I was excited. I felt this urge to have a free exchange of ideas with someone."