Last updated: 12:41 PM ET, Fri October 07 2016

NTA Tour Operators Attend Sichuan International Travel Expo

Tour Operator | National Tour Association (NTA) | David Cogswell | September 30, 2016

NTA Tour Operators Attend Sichuan International Travel Expo

PHOTO: Sichuan International Travel Expo Center in Leshan, China. (photo by David Cogswell)

The Third Annual Sichuan International Travel Expo was held in Leshan, China, Sept. 22-28, at an impressive 700,000 square foot venue built expressly for the occasion. The event brought together buyers and sellers from 45 tourism countries and regions.

The expo is designed primarily to promote tourism in the province of Sichuan in Southwest China, an area that is famous for its popular spicy cuisine that has spread around the world, and for some of the best tourism attractions in China.

Sichuan is one of the top areas for domestic tourism among the Chinese, but is less known to American tourists. It’s known for its mountain forest scenery and extraordinary natural features, such as Mount Emei, the tallest of China’s four sacred mountains of Buddhism, and the Giant Buddha of Leshan, as well as many ancient temples, monuments and towns.

For Americans, the province of Sichuan would be down the list of reasons to travel to China below areas of primary interests of first-time travelers to China, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and the Yangtze River. But as Americans become more experienced in travel to China they are moving beyond the first-tier destinations, and Sichuan is coming into view.

NTA and the USA in China

The National Tour Association took a delegation of tour operator members to the Sichuan event as part of the efforts to expand China-U.S. tourism on both sides of the Pacific.

NTA is interested in both inbound and outbound China tourism. It has run familiarization trips in the U.S. for tour operators scouting destinations for their inbound China clients, and also, as in this case, takes American tour operators to China to learn about Chinese destinations for their American clients wanting to visit China.

READ MORE: Ready for Change: One on One with Pam Inman, NTA

NTA’s China program is part of its larger effort to redefine itself for the 21st Century as an international organization, expanding beyond its roots as a primarily domestic travel association for tour operators.

NTA has been working with the Chinese government since 2007, when it signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce to take the responsibility of helping to assure the Chinese government that Chinese citizens traveling to the United States will be in the hands of responsible, reliable tour operators.

For NTA members, the agreement with the Chinese government helps give them access to the mushrooming market of Chinese tourists coming to the U.S. as well as a greater reach into China as an outbound destination for Americans.

Unprecedented Growth

As China’s economic development continues to soar, China’s middle class grows in numbers and economic power. The number of Chinese citizens traveling outside the country is growing at an enormous rate as an increasing proportion of its 1.4 billion population become economically empowered enough to travel abroad for the first time.

For the U.S. domestic tourism industry, the rising China market cannot be ignored. It is large and growing at an unprecedented rate. China is the most populous nation in the world, and since the 1980s when Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping opened the country to the world market system, the country’s economic growth has been meteoric.

NTA’s involvement in the China tourism market began in 2007 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce through which NTA would act as an agency to help ensure the government of China that its citizens would be in the hands of reputable, reliable tour operators when they visited the U.S.

The growth of that market is staggering. In 2006 there were 320,000 visitors from China. Since 2010 when NTA established its Visit USA center in Shanghai under the US Department of Commerce Chinese, visitors to the US grew rapidly, quadrupling from 46,000 in second quarter 2010 to more than 200,000 in third quarter 2011.

According to NTA figures, by 2013 China ranked seventh in the number of annual visitors to the United States in 2013, with 1.8 million tourism entries generating $21 billion in spending. The China market supports more than 100,000 U.S. jobs. In 2006 there were 320,000 visitors from China.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that the number of inbound Chinese tourists will reach 3.1 million in 2019, a 173 percent increase from 2013. That would put China over all other countries in terms of visitors to the U.S. except Mexico and Canada.

READ MORE: Chinese Tourism Is Becoming Increasingly Important

On the Trade Show Floor

In its flashy new expo center, the Sichuan International Travel Expo filled most of two floors with colorful exhibition booths, each competing to be the most colossal and overwhelming to catch the attention of passersby.

One floor was designated for Sichuan destinations and attractions. Another floor was for foreign destinations catering to the Chinese outbound market. That was the area in which the NTA had its exhibition booth, along with seemingly every country in the world, including Russia, Germany, the U.K., Switzerland, Greece, the Maldives... , because everyone in the world is competing for a share of the burgeoning Chinese market.

The event opened officially with a spectacular dance performance, with hundreds of dancers gliding across a wide stage in wildly colorful costumes in front of a massive super-wide video screen that provided a moving backdrop of scenes from the region.

Dancers came streaming onto the stage under bright spotlights with their silky costumes gleaming in bright reds, blues, yellows, greens and purples. Lines of dancers glided across the floor as if they had no feet and could float. Thousands of years of Chinese dance tradition unfolded on the stage in a flawless, massive performance that could not fail to overwhelm its audience.

The dancers were followed by acrobats performing frightening, gravity-defying gymnastic stunts, which were then followed by officials of various tourism promotion entities, such as the World Tourism Organization, the Pacific Asia Travel Association and various government tourism agencies, took the stage to make speeches in honor of the event.

A series of tours and cultural events were offered attendees, including local folk music and dance performances and trips to local attractions such as Mount Emei and the Leshan Giant Buddha.

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