Reporter Journal / William Hennelly

Oregon has that unspoiled natural beauty that Chinese tourists yearn for

( Updated: 2017-04-28 04:33

An emerging pursuit of Chinese tourists is to branch out and "self-explore" the US beyond the tour buses to major cities and famous attractions.

The state of Oregon, known for its rugged natural beauty, craft beer and roses, among other delights, is suited just fine for that type of adventure.

"The unspoiled nature of Oregon in general is appealing, very fresh air, very clean water, beautiful views," Greg Eckhart, global sales manager-Asia for Travel Oregon, told China Daily. "The coast is appealing not just for the beauty but also for the seafood we have. We have incredible oysters."

"They got that 10-year (travel) visa in hand now," Eckhart said of tourists from China. "They may have been to the United States once or twice, and they're like, ‘OK, I've seen the places that I've seen in the movies' … whether it's Los Angeles or Vegas.

"They would like a different experience, and Oregon is well positioned for those second- and third-time visitors," said Eckhart, who said the state has been represented by a tourism office in China for six years.

Travel Portland, the marketing organization for the city, and the Oregon Tourism Commission (Travel Oregon) this week co-sponsored the Active America-China Summit, a trade show focused on building inbound Chinese tourism.

The summit was held from Sunday through Wednesday at the Hilton Portland & Executive Towers, and it was the first time the city hosted the event, which is in its ninth year.

"Chinese tourism has increased dramatically over the past decade, and the China inbound market is tremendously important to the Oregon economy," said Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon. "China is now the state's No. 1 overseas market and the Portland region's No. 2 market (according to VisaVue 2014)."

Oregon's $10.8 billion-a-year tourism industry employs more than 105,000 Oregonians. In 2016, Chinese visitors to Oregon spent $226.6 million on travel-related services in the state, and $112.3 million of that spending happened in Portland.

Tour operators who attended past Active America-China summits represented companies responsible for more than 40 percent of all tourism to North America.

"The Active America China Summit represents a unique opportunity for local and regional tourism and hospitality businesses to present their offerings directly to 75 Chinese tour buyers without leaving the state," said Jake Steinman, president and CEO of North American Journeys, which has run Active America-China since 1992. "We bill it as the sales mission that comes to you, so we intentionally limit participation to a 3-to-1 ratio of sellers to buyers."

Eckhart detailed some of the experiences favored by Chinese visitors to Oregon.

"I get many comments about Crater Lake (National Park in southern Oregon)," he said. "I get many comments about the freshness and quality of the food that is served and grown here.

"Telling the story … of how craft beer is here and why it is here is interesting to people from China," he said. "Particularly of appeal is the NBA; we have an NBA team here, the Portland Trail Blazers. Nike headquarters in Beaverton is of interest."

Eckhart said many of the tour companies Travel Oregon works with are developing self-driving tour programs.

"It's not uncommon for visitors to come in and drive down Highway 101 and begin their trip in Seattle, come visit Oregon, view Portland from Highway 101 and maybe even down to Crater Lake and then on in to San Francisco," he said. "That's a very common itinerary for visitors from all over the world."

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