Fifty-three Chinese tour operators visited Georgia’s premier tourism sites April 14-18 as the city of Atlanta and the state jumpstarted their campaign to become a leading destination for Chinese tourists.

With forecasts that China is to send out 100 million international travelers by 2020, destinations around the United States have been preparing themselves to accommodate these new visitors.

To show their interest in promoting Georgia in China, local officials including Kevin Langston, Georgia’s assistant commissioner for tourism, attended a travel show in Kunming, China, in November 2007 as tourist-related negotiations were taking place between the U.S. and China.

A month later, Chinese officials signed a memorandum of understanding placing the U.S. on its approved destinations list.

Mr. Langston told GlobalAtlanta that the state’s Department of Economic Development and the Atlanta Visitors and Convention Bureau wanted to bring the tour operators here as soon as possible.

“It’s easier to sell if they have touched it, felt it and seen it,” he said of the state’s tourism offerings. “Atlanta and Georgia went after it. We wanted to have the first summit.”

The economic development department, the convention and visitors bureau, Delta Air Lines Inc. and Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport partnered with North American Journeys, a California-based travel company, to launch the first Active America Travel Summit-China.

Mr. Langston didn’t know if the annual summit, which was attended from representatives of other U.S. cities and states as well, would be held in Georgia next year, but he was upbeat about the results of the first one.

“The Chinese like to see American icons,” he said, citing the operators’ positive responses to the World of Coca-Cola, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, the Margaret Mitchell House and Gone With the Wind Museum and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

“They all knew Coke and Jimmy Carter,” he said. “Many had read ‘Gone With the Wind’ and even seen the movie.”

The operators also had a private tour of the airport and CNN and visited the Georgia Aquarium, Stone Mountain Park, Underground Atlanta, the Georgia Dome and the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum.

In addition, they visited Plains and Savannah.

Aside from the sightseeing, the operators apparently enjoyed shopping at Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square, he added.

He also said that he thinks Georgia can develop opportunities for Chinese tourists to participate in activities that they are not apt to at home such as whitewater rafting, hang gliding and hunting.

Mark Vaughan, executive vice president of the Atlanta Visitors and Convention Bureau, said that a primary benefit of the summit was highlighting Delta’s flights to Shanghai, China, and underscoring the importance of Atlanta as an entry point for the state and the Southeast.

He said it was important to work closely with the state to maximize the impact on the Chinese tour operators of the variety of activities in which individual tourists could participate.

Another important aspect of the summit, however, was to underline the number of important trade shows held in Atlanta that Chinese businesspeople can attend, he said.