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Guv touts Utah tourism: An 'exchange of people'

Published October 19, 2006 12:31 am

State wants Chinese travelers to drop by when in the U.S.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

BEIJING - Most Chinese don't know Utah's Hole in the Rock from a hole in a wall.

And while hip and colorful, the state's tourism promotion video featuring everything from Austin Powers paragliding through redrock to Olympic bobsledders rattling their way down a run is unlikely to change the situation. Utah leaders know that.

So rather than continue to flail against flashier U.S. tourist destinations such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the state's strategy in China seems to have become: "Stop by on your way to [fill in the blank]."

"You have to sell the whole region," said Shawn Horman, vice president for Western Leisure, a tour organizer. "They don't know Utah from Nevada from Wyoming."

State leaders launched their new slogan - Life Elevated - and marketing strategy for the first time in China on Wednesday at a reception for more than 100 government-certified travel brokers.

The presentation included clips of Huntsman welcoming Chinese tourists in Mandarin, a fictional seven-day travelog from a hangdog narrator transformed by a visit to Utah and a lengthy montage of American movies and television shows filmed in the state over the past 30 years - from "Easy Rider" to "Everwood."

"If you come to Utah, you will know why they like to make movies in our state," said Brett Heimburger, Governor's Office of Economic Development Asia director. "We truly are the great American West."

The brokers laughed at Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s jokes, clapped at all the right moments and marveled at the Beehive State's natural beauty.

"I hope I have the chance to visit," said Grace Zhou, customer manager for China Travel International Ltd.

And yet the reality is: China's middle class is only emerging; most Chinese still can't afford to travel outside their country. Visa restrictions limit the number who do. And when they do, the Chinese first want to visit more famous U.S. locales.

"It's not the first choice," said Ding Qing Fen, a reporter for China Daily. "If you are going on your first trip, you're going to go to Hawaii, San Francisco or Los Angeles."

Nevertheless, state leaders want to be ready when that changes.

Wednesday's meeting was equal parts international diplomacy meeting and self-promotion tour. Utah leaders hope to take advantage of China's growing economy. Last year, 1.5 million American tourists visited China and 500,000 Chinese sightseers traveled to the United States.

Huntsman and Liu Ke Zhi, general director of China's National Tourism Administration, agreed travel to other countries could do a lot to solve the world's political friction.

Utah's governor said the "exchange of people" between the two countries is as critical as the stream of products. "The flow of trade will continue and it will get bigger and bigger each year," Huntsman said. "What is just as important is that we begin to understand each other."

Liu Ke Zhi, general director of China's National Tourism Administration, agreed. "Tourism is a very good bridge of friendship," he said.

To that end, Western Leisure's Horman has a BeiÂjing partner ready to coordinate trips for corporate and educational groups and arrange invitation letters.

"No matter which gateway city you come through, we hope your path will lead you to Utah," Horman said.

walsh@sltrib.com