China major thrust of US tourism pitch

Updated: 2015-04-07 09:59

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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While gateway US cities and states already have big campaigns to attract Chinese tourists, the United States' official tourism bureau wants Chinese travelers to visit more than just major cities.

The US' national travel and tourism strategy calls for 100 million international visitors who will spend $250 billion by 2021, and the biggest priority for Brand USA - the country's first-ever nationally coordinated tourism marketing effort created to implement the strategy - is China.

Chinese tourists spend on average $6,000 each per trip to the US, the highest of any country, and Brand USA wants to keep that number growing.

"That's probably 30 percent higher than what the average is for international visitors, and certainly that's a very valuable market for us to be able to get increased visitation from," said Christopher Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA.

"As we're looking at our path to 100 million visitors, China's in our top 20 markets, and it has more potential than any market in our evaluative set, and so it's a high priority for our board; it's a high priority in what we're looking at, and we will be continuing to look at how we can continue to deploy considerable resources toward tapping into that," he said.

Brand USA, originally called the Corporation for Travel Promotion, is a public-private partnership that gets funds from the federal government equal to what the bureau can raise from the private sector, not exceeding a maximum of $100 million. It was created in 2009, when the Travel Promotion Act was passed by Congress to promote tourism to the US.

The bureau works with about 500 tourism offices and businesses across the country, the majority of which are the destinations that represent the states and cities, and the next largest are the brands that represent products, such as lodging, attractions, restaurants and retail establishments.

The biggest partners contribute up to seven-figure sums to market with Brand USA, and smaller partners contribute four or five figures to do the same, in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. Many are particularly interested in marketing to China, Thompson told China Daily in an interview.

"A responsibility we take very seriously is promoting the entirety of the United States, all 50 states, five territories, District of Columbia, through and beyond the gateways. Everything we do across all of our marketing channels that we deploy in over 30 markets over the world is designed to try to be something to everybody that represents the product that is the United States and wants to have a play in international markets," he said.

Just over 2 million Chinese visitors came to the US in 2014, and the Department of Commerce estimates that over 7 million will come by 2021. The State Department has also seen a marked increase - 41 percent - in Chinese applications for US visas since the announcement of visa validity extensions late last year, according to Thompson.

"Not only will that help visitors from China as it relates to now - they only have to get a visa every 10 years - maybe those that were thinking that it wasn't worth the effort to just get one for a year might then consider getting one," he said.

Every destination that Brand USA partners with can use the Brand USA digital platform - - to create a micro site, and bigger brands, like those of New York or California, have their own separate destination websites. Brand USA also helps produce small "in-language video" vignettes that help destinations promote themselves in Chinese.

One theme that Brand USA will be focusing on for the current fiscal year is the great outdoors, with the National Park Service celebrating its 100th anniversary next year. Brand USA is producing a film about the country's national parks that will be previewed in the fall and then shown in its entirety early next year.

"It's going to be a storytelling opportunity through the filter of the national parks," Thompson said. "We'll be showing it in big screens and IMAX theaters all over the world, and probably just in China, there's under 100 IMAX theaters, and by the time we debut this, that number could double or triple. It's a great opportunity for us to tell a great story through an increasingly popular medium in China," Thompson said.