The World Trade Center Atlanta is to host the China-Southeastern U.S. Tourism Forum on Thursday, June 12, five days before a new memorandum of understanding goes into effect allowing group tours of Chinese leisure travelers to visit the United States.

Shao Qiwei, chairman of the China National Tourism Administration, is to lead the inaugural tour group composed of as many as 300 officials to visit Washington on June 17, the effective date of the memorandum.

“This MOU opens China’s growing market to U.S. travel and tourism industries,” Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez said in a statement.

“Now, more Chinese visitors can experience America’s hospitality, cultural diversity and natural beauty. Increased visitation from China will boost overall visitation to the United States, strengthen the relationship between our nations and forge new friendship between our peoples,” he said.

The World Trade Center Atlanta’s forum is geared to preparing Atlanta and the rest of Georgia for what is expected to be a substantial increase in the number of Chinese visitors throughout the U.S.

Because of the direct Delta Air Lines Inc. flight between Atlanta and Shanghai, China, however, Georgia has the opportunity to be a leading state destination for Chinese leisure tourists.

Kevin Langston, assistant commissioner for tourism at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, will brief attendees at the event on the preparations that the state has made to attract these new tourists.

Isabel Hill, deputy director of the Commerce Department’s Office of Travel and Tourism Officials and a lead negotiator for the memorandum, will address its terms and the opportunities for the U.S. tourism industry that it presents.

Other speakers are to include Lisa Simon, president of the National Tour Association that has taken a lead in preparing the industry for the Chinese tour groups; Nick Qin, president of Norcross-based China Professional Tours Inc. who has promoted tourism between China and the U.S. since before the 1996 Olympic Games that were held in Atlanta.

Xinhong Zhang, director of the China National Tourist Office in New York, has been invited to attend the forum.

Representatives from government agencies, restaurants, U.S. and Chinese tourist companies and operators, hotels, regional travel associations and local chambers of commerce are expected to attend the forum, which is open to anyone interested in growing ties between Georgia and China.

The U.S. is currently China’s fourth largest source of tourists. According to the U.N. World Tourism Organization, China is the fastest growing travel market in the world and by 2020, it is to become the world’s fourth largest source of tourists.

The cost to attend the forum that begins at 1 p.m. including panel discussions, a reception and food breaks is $55 for WTCA members and $75 for non-members.

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...