Chinese tourists in mountain towns

Chinese tourists now numbering 250 to 500 daily in Jackson Hole

Numbers also rising in Colorado

by Allen Best

JACKSON, Wyo. – Chinese tourists have begun to arrive in Jackson Hole in significant numbers, by one estimate 500 a day in June.

It’s no accident. Jeff Golightly, chief executive of the local chamber, tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide that the new Chinese visitors are the reward of a “multiyear strategy.” And Jackson’s proximity to Yellowstone National Park— it’s just about an hour away—is a major reason for Jackson’s newfound popularity.

Chinese are familiar with America’s national parks. “When you go to China, they’ve all heard of Yellowstone,” said Mark Newcomb, an economic consultant. He is also a board member of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, which sends delegations annually from Wyoming to visit China on matters of energy.

In Colorado, Chinese visitors remain a trickle, and mostly as a launching place for bus tours to Yellowstone or even Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, reports Michael Driver, director of international marketing and PR for the Colorado Tourism Office. Others may come into Denver for business and tack on a few extra days for visits to Rocky Mountain National Park, for example. In some cases, people fly to the West Coast and then leave from DIA, Driver says. But as an attraction, Denver is altogether in the second tier, along with such places as Chicago and Houston

Ski areas are seeing almost no business—yet.

“Here at Stay Aspen Snowmass, we had no reservations from Chinese visitors three years ago, one the winter before last, and a handful this past winter,” reports Bill Tomcich, executive director of the reservations agency. But he notes that Aspen has “solid, one-stop connections” from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Hong Kong.

Aspen Skiing sees enough potential in China that it has sent sales teams. Visits “will grow, but how fast, it’s hard to say,” believes David Perry, senior vice president of marketing.

Individuals are also intrigued by China. Aspen Skiing gives employees time to learn a second language, especially as it relates to customers. Many employees are trying to learn Mandarin, the dominant language of northern China.

In Vail, Councilwoman Margaret Rogers a year ago to propose a sister-city relationship with some Chinese city. The town has not pursued the idea, instead waiting to see what Vail Resorts does. For a time, the company’s now-retired John Garnsey was making frequent trips to China.

“I still think it’s a fertile market,” says Rogers. “All you need is a very small percentage of the affluent Chinese tourists to make a difference, because there are so many of them.”

Chinese visits to the U.S. grew from 1.4 million to 1.8 million between 2012 and 2013, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report. Both years, Colorado’s share stood at just 1.5 percent. But Driver from the Colorado Tourism Office say that China now accounts for more visitors than Italy, France, or even Australia.

Last year, Colorado hosted 18,000 Australians, many in winter, and 27,000 Chinese, mostly in summer.

Colorado is expanding its work in China. “We will have boots on the ground in the next month (in China) to help us with market-based PR and marketing,” says Driver.

In Jackson Hole, the visitors are already there. Now, it’s a matter of accommodating them. By one estimate, only 44 percent of Chinese have skills or training in speaking or understanding English.

Local businesses are starting to grapple with this language barrier. “We’ve done an incredible amount of business with people from Shanghai in the last couple of years,” said Sheri Bickner, owner of the Onyx and Antler Gallery of Jackson Hole. But “the language barrier has been a real challenge for us,” she added in an interview with the News&Guide.

To help smooth communication, the East Meets West Chinese Information Center in Jackson is translating menus and other materials for businesses and has Mandarin-speaking guides on hand for tourists.

It’s in the economic interests of businesses to reach out to the Chinese. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Chinese tourists spend more than $6,000 per trip.

Abetting Chinese travel in the United States are relaxed visa requirements. Forbes said that China is getting no special treatment on orders from President Barack Obama to streamline the entry process. However, in a May report, the magazine did note that “right now, China tourism is hotter than new love.”

This article is from the July 26 issue of Mountain Town News. Request a free sample of the subscription-based e-zine by sending me a note at [email protected]


Allen Best

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