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Utah tourism officials hope to see more Chinese visitors

Published: Sunday, April 17 2011 12:19 a.m. MDT

BEIJING — Utah tourism officials are hoping a visit to China last week by Gov. Gary Herbert and other state leaders will bring more Chinese visitors to the Beehive State.

"That would be a great thing for us," said Deena Loyola, a spokeswoman for Utah State Parks.

Members of the Utah trade delegation met with representatives of the Chinese tourism industry Wednesday at the China World Hotel in downtown Beijing.

The event featured a video presentation in which Xia Yu, one of the country's most famous movie stars, gushed about his visit to Utah.

"Utah is such an amazing place," Xia said in the video. "I had a really great time there."

The actor and a film crew took a trip to Park City in February, contributing to the 221 percent increase in Chinese visitors to the United States since 2000.

"The snow powder is just incredible, and they were totally amazed by the quality of the ski resorts," said Sharon Wu, chief representative of the U.S. Travel Association in China.

To date, the Chinese market has represented only a small percentage of visitors to Utah ski resorts, said Jessica Kunzer, Ski Utah's director of communications.

"This is definitely a new market that we are starting to take a look at," Kunzer said. "We feel very optimistic that there is a lot of potential for growth in that area."

Ski Utah officials are hoping Delta Air Lines' nonstop flight between Salt Lake City International Airport and Tokyo will expand to year-round service. The seasonal flight will be entering its third year when it starts up again June 1. Delta will offer between five and seven nonstop flights until October.

"If and when this flight is more successful and the numbers sustain and grow, Delta Air Lines will make a decision about making it a year-round flight," said Barbara Gann, airport spokeswoman.

That would be good news for Utah ski resorts, Kunzer said.

"It would open up a little more convenience for the Asain markets and make it much easier for them to connect to our resorts," she said.

With China's booming economy, Chinese people overall have more disposable income, tourism officials said. On average, Chinese tourists spend $6,000 per person when they visit the United States.

"It's thought of as a badge of honor to bring back the things from the U.S., even things that maybe are made in China," said Bruce Bommarito, president of Bommarito Global Consulting. "But if there are U.S. brands, it's a badge of honor."

Herbert touted the beauty of Utah and its "unique geography" at the China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market, "from the Rocky Mountains and ski industry up in the north, to the beautiful rivers and slick rock of southern Utah."

Utah travel guides and calendars, printed in Chinese, were passed out at the event.

Jun "Danny" Wu, a reporter for China Tourism News, said the Chinese people are familiar with Utah because of the Utah Jazz and national parks in the state.

"Maybe Chinese people want to see NBA basketball games in Utah," he said, "and they want to see the national parks in Utah."

Loyola said state parks in southern Utah, such as Dead Horse Point and Kodachrome Basin, attract Asian tourists.

"(Areas) with that Western-looking scenery, we see a lot of our international tourism there," she said.

Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, a member of the Utah trade delegation in China, said he's been "astonished" at how many people in China know about Utah.

With a rapidly growing population of more than 1.3 billion and more and more Chinese traveling oversees, Bommarito said "the possibilities of Chinese travelers coming to the U.S. are most infinite."

E-mail: jdaley@desnews.com, jpage@desnews.com

Twitter: jaredpage

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