Two Chinese delegations will converge on Southern Oregon this week, checking out the region's natural wonders and culture.
If all goes as local politicians and tourism officials hope, the door will swing open for frequent visits by Chinese travelers, perhaps leading to future economic agreements.
Arrive at Seven Feathers Casino Resort for dinner.
Ashland Springs Hotel: Official welcome, introduction of delegation, presentations, lunch with government and business leaders.
Lunch: San Francisco Consul General Gao Zhansheng, keynote speaker.
Afternoon: Hellgate Jetboat Excursions, Grants Pass.
Evening: Consul general reception and dinner, Ashland.
Conference at RCC/SOU Higher Education Center: Presentation on Confucius Institute and Chinese business protocol. Open forum discussion on how Southern Oregon and China can do business, 8:30 a.m.
Noon: Crater Lake Lodge lunch, followed by Crater Lake tour.
Evening: Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo, Jackson County Expo, Central Point.
An official government delegation from the Chinese consulate in San Francisco will be joined by a business, education and tourism contingent from Fujian Province for a four-day visit that will include a jetboat trip down the Rogue River, viewing Crater Lake and a regional business conference in Medford.
"This is a getting-to-know-each-other session," said David Wick, a member of the Southern Oregon China Connection steering committee playing host to the visitors. "We see this as opening the door to mutual economic benefit for our region and China."
The Chinese visitors will meet with civic leaders in both public and private settings Friday and Saturday, including a Saturday morning conference at the SOU/RCC Higher Education Center in downtown Medford.
The weekend visit fulfills a long-standing goal for Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, who joins Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, on the steering committee.
"I've been struggling for years to come up with a way to develop relationships that would encourage more Chinese investment and trade with Oregon and benefit the Southern Oregon economy," said Richardson, who has visited the world's most populous country six times. "Ultimately tourism is something useful and beneficial, and with it comes investment. It's gratifying to know that during that time China has gone from Oregon's No. 6 to No. 1 trade partner. They buy more services and products than any other country."
Fujian Province alone has a population equal to California — squeezed into a quarter of the size. The thought of tapping into such a market excites Southern Oregon Visitors Association Chief Executive Officer Carolyn Hill.
"This gives us an opportunity to introduce our product to a potentially huge audience," said Hill, who already has designs on developing a future marketing campaign using film and pictures from this weekend.
"It takes years to develop relationships with other countries and to arrange international visitation like this is a big deal," Hill said. "Of all the places in Oregon that could be part of this, it's Southern Oregon and the folks coming here aren't visiting any other place."
The great leap forward in Chinese tourism came in December 2007 when the U.S. Travel Association was able to sign a memo of understanding, allowing it to market the country as a leisure travel destination.
"Prior to that, travel from China had to be business related," said Teresa O'Neill, director of international sales and marketing for Travel Oregon.
Even so, of the estimated 600,000 mainland Chinese travelers to the United States in 2009, only about 25,000 ventured to Oregon.
Oregon and Fujian Province have a sister-state relationship which has fostered educational and cultural activity. Yet Oregon is just the 16th-largest market for U.S. travel by the Chinese.
"We see twice the number of Japanese travelers here," O'Neill said. "It's really important for Oregon to leverage sister-state relationship (with China). We're focusing on tour operators so we can have a real base to grow from."
Many of the visitors would have a hard time finding the Rogue Valley on a map, said Irene Kai, president of Southern Oregon China Connections. "We are going to bring them here and show them what a beautiful place this is," she said. "We would love to see them come back and invest money in our green technology projects."
First-time Chinese visitors typically hit the glitzy big cities in California, Nevada and Florida. Richardson sees promise in the return trips.
"When they come back the second or third time and want a different American experience, we say come to Oregon and buy your souvenirs tax-free," he said. "It's time for us to accept the reality that China's economy has continued to boom while the rest of the world is in a severe recession. What I'm shooting for is having Southern Oregon become a preferred destination for Chinese tourists. That will generate millions of dollars for Southern Oregon we would not receive otherwise."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.