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US Seeks More Tourists from China

  • Jim Randle

In one splashy television commercial segment, country music star Rosanne Cash croons about parts of the United States that potential visitors haven't seen in films and probably wouldn't know from popular music.

Part of a public-private sector tourism campaign to lure more travelers, the ad was produced by Brand USA, whose CEO, Chris Thompson, calls the effort crucial to supporting a vital sector of the U.S. economy.

Worldwide, tourists make more than one billion international trips annually, and the United Nations says their spending gives a boost to the global economy.

Domestically, the tourism industry directly supports nearly eight million U.S. jobs and impacts millions more. While many of these tourists come from the expanding middle classes in Brazil, India, and China — last year, the U.S. hosted 1.8 million visitors from China alone — efforts are being stepped up to attract even more.

"There is so much more to the United States then they even have any inkling of right now," says Thompson. "And it is pretty much any interest they have, we can deliver it in a way that only the United States can deliver."

According to Daniel Shen, president of Lion Tours, Chinese tourists spend nearly $6,000 to make a U.S. visit — more than guests from other nations — thanks to the country's sustained economic growth, strengthening currency, and rapidly expanding wealth.

While the campaign promotes a range of U.S. cities across the continent, specific criteria informs the decision to promote certain destinations.

"Shopping is kind of a 'must thing' for Chinese people," says Chen. "For Chinese, when a family member travels overseas, they always bring something back. When they return, [they] give to their family, friends... colleagues, even."

Ever since and agreement between the U.S. and Chinese officials made it easier for Chinese tourists to visit, Chen says he is hearing fewer complaints about visas or the long airport lines that once annoyed international travelers.

And visitors like these in Washington, says Chen, are also get a more accurate picture of what the United States has to offer.

"[In] U.S., not all cities [are] like Hollywood movies or the wild, wild west, people carrying guns and shooting around on street," he says.

But they are shooting with cameras.

Tourism officials are working on an IMAX film to showcase America's national parks. They hope to finish it in plenty of time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of these protected places in August 2016.

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