Chinese dancers perform to help kick off China Tourism Night at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead.

A 46-person tourism delegation from 13 Chinese provinces visited Atlanta on Dec. 11 to promote travel destinations in the world’s most populous country.

China drew 54.7 million overnight visitors last year who spent $41.9 billion in the country, said Wang Yan, deputy director-general of the China National Tourism Administration’s marketing department.

By 2015 China will be the world’s most popular tourism destination with an estimated 100 million overnight stays, she said.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization projects that China will send out the same number of travelers by 2020. 

Ms. Wang spoke about China’s charms to a dinner audience at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead. 

Atlanta was one of many cities – along with Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco – targeted by the tourism administration for a yearly road show promoting China throughout the U.S.

Georgia has worked hard over the past few years to build its brand throughout China.  The state currently spends 10 percent of its annual international tourism marketing budget, or $100,000, on China.

But Georgia isn’t promoting itself in a vacuum.

“We believe, and I hope you do too, that Atlanta is the gateway to the American South,” Georgia’s Deputy Commissioner for Tourism Charlie Gatlin said in welcoming his Chinese counterparts.

Last month, Georgia joined other Southern states at a booth in China’s biggest tourism convention, the China International Travel Mart. 

Georgia is a member of Travel South USA, a regional marketing organization formed by 12 Southern states that takes a “lift-all-boats” approach to attracting Chinese tourism. 

Realistically, Chinese tourists are not going to visit the South on their first trip, nor are they likely to remain in one state during their stay, which lasts an average of 16.2 days, Georgia tourism leaders have told GlobalAtlanta.

Working together, the South can better market its distinctive culture and tap into curiosity about a region of the U.S. relatively unknown to many Chinese travelers.

“We want to work very hard with you to promote more connections, to promote tourism and to promote more business ties between our state and your country,” Mr. Gatlin told the dinner audience.

Wang Zhifa, the China National Tourism Administration’s vice chairman, said cooperation is needed between the U.S. and China to “push forward our fast development and tourism industry.”

The U.S. is an important source of long-haul travelers for China, and under a new agreement reached by the two countries, Chinese travelers can visit the U.S. in groups for leisure purposes, which wasn’t possible before June 2008.

Ms. Wang, the marketing director, said tourism is helping China develop, especially in its interior.

“China’s fast-growing tourism industry is the catalyst for sustained development of tourism infrastructure,” she said.

Only Italy has more properties than China on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s registry of World Heritage Sites, she said.

The country also has rich ethnic diversity. China’s 56 ethnic groups are spread throughout the vast country’s 22 provinces, and many of them still live traditional lifestyles.

Ms. Wang touted a variety of recently developed tourism offerings. 

Travelers can now visit the Olympic venues from the 2008 Games in Beijing, travel through China on the ancient Silk Road and marvel at the world’s largest hydroelectric project – the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in Hubei province. 

Health trips, shopping and culinary tours are also popular activities, Ms. Wang said.

She noted that many Americans like what they believe to be Chinese food, but joked that what’s eaten here isn’t quite the authentic stuff.

“For the real Chinese food you need a trip to China.  It has a totally different taste,” she said.

Vice Chairman Wang encouraged Georgians to visit Shanghai for the World Expo 2010, which he said will “leave the world another pleasant surprise,” as the Olympics did in August.

Even in late March, when Delta Air Lines began its nonstop service to Shanghai, the city was already preparing for the event, a six-month exposition where participants will focus on urban development under the theme, “Better City, Better Life.”

Chinese authorities project the event will attract 70 million visitors in its 184 days.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...