Stopover from the Chinese president providing boost in Alaska tourism

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - An unexpected visit from the Chinese president earlier this year may have further opened Alaska to a new tourism market.

In April, Chinese President Xi Jinping stopped over in Anchorage after his meeting with President Donald Trump. During the visit, he toured Beluga Point and sat down in Governor Bill Walker to discuss energy and trade partnerships. All the while, dozens of Chinese TV and newspaper cameras snapped pictures of their president in front of scenic Chugach Mountains.

“The TV station did news for days,” said chief operating officer Jin Chen of Skylar Travel. “That definitely put Alaska on the map.”

Skylar Travel is a tourism agency in Anchorage that caters to Asian markets by coordinating mandarin speaking tours in Alaska. Chen said since the presidential visit, her business has seen a spike in interest from residents in China hoping to see Alaska for themselves.

It’s a celebrity bump Chinese President Xi told Gov. Walker to expect.

“He felt as a result of his coming to Alaska, we will see an uptick in tourism from Alaska,” Walker said in a press conference following Xi’s April visit. “And I think he's right about that.”

Industry experts said although the additional exposure from the Chinese media outlets may have provided a catalyst to boost public interest in Alaska, the economic climate and cultural shift in China may also be compounding the effect.

“My generation will spend money on travelling and experiencing things in life, when our parents focused on saving money and putting [it] in savings account,” said Chen. “That's a different spending pattern.”

As China's younger generation gains economic prosperity, more disposable income is allowing more tourists to branch out to new areas, said UAA associate professor of economics Angie Zheng.

“There's a rising middle class, people can afford a lot of different things like the high quality food, and the high quality travel experiences,” said Zheng.

In 2015, Zheng completed a research project in China, asking residents about their perception of Alaska seafood. She not only discovered there is a high interest from Chinese consumers in purchasing Alaska salmon, halibut and king crab but also learned the average respondent to her survey had a high perception of the state of Alaska.

“When we refer to Alaska, a lot of consumers can instantly link to the natural beauty,” said Zheng.

According the Zheng, because a visa to visit the United States was also extended to last ten years without renewal, Chinese tourists have less paperwork and fees to complete, allowing them to return to the US multiple times to visit less popular tourist spots.