Discovering the New China
Today we had the opening session of the Virtuoso’s Chairman’s Event in Beijing, China and it was a completely eye opening experience to me. Our speakers included a government official from the Department of Tourism, Lijia Zhang, author of a book entitled Socialism is Great and David Ben Kay, who was a liaison for Microsoft located in China, who now has a company in the 798 Art District helping people outside China start businesses within China. They also had two college students speak about their lives growing up in China and how different they were from their parent’s lives. Each person’s perspective was unique and it was truly enlightening for me both as a travel specialist and as an American.
To be completely honest, and I’m almost embarrassed to say this, prior to this meeting and prior to my trip to China, my perception of China had been somewhat warped by television and a lifetime of education on communism. Even though China was a destination full of culture and history, it was a country with a government with an agenda. A country of people who ate anything that walked, crawled or flew and a destination with people who had little to say about their lives and their future. A country with an agenda to take over the world, by continually loaning money, like a loan shark, who will eventually use that power to control everyone else’s destiny. Although some of that may have been true in the past, I am quickly discovering that is not the case in China today nor with the citizens of China.
With over 1.3 billion, yes that’s billion with a ‘B’, citizens in China, things are changing. Young people are able to make choices. Choices of careers, of schooling, of what they wear and how they think. They are able to aspire to become something other than what their parents and grand parents were. Lijia Zhang talked about how in her parents lifetime in China, they lived like ‘A frog in a well’ or someone who could not escape their destiny and could not see anything more than what was in the well. She talked about how much that has changed and how different things are in only the past twenty years. One of the college students spoke about how his primary goal was to be happy in life and find a career that was truly fulfilling to him, a concept that was unheard in the past. The other student was studying journalism and was planning to teach at a college in the US next year, as long as she gets the job, before returning to China to become a professor of English to Chinese students. David Ben Kay spoke about entrepreneurs and artists coming to China to build businesses. All of these realities were something completely incomprehensible to the people of China years ago but are exciting opportunities for the people of China today.
With these changes, there is a growing upper class in China, that is hungry to see the world and hoping to travel abroad and there is a sense of innovation that is truly exciting. Matthew Upchurch, the CEO of Virtuoso and host of our trip, gave several statics in his portion of the opening session. One statistic that stuck in my mind was that last year alone, over 79 million visa applications from foreigners to visit the US were not processed, primarily due to inefficiencies within the US government and a lack of emphasis on tourism in our country. He continued by talking about how the processing of those visas would have resulted in over over 606 billion dollars and a half a million jobs in the tourism industry in the United States. As a person whose career depends on tourism both within and outside of the US and as someone who is witnessing an economy in need of jobs, I see an opportunity that shouldn’t be passes by. The opportunities to both embrace the ‘New China’ and embrace our the opportunities for tourism are exciting and should not be overlooked.
Our meetings wrapped up with a talk from Guy Rubin of Imperial Tours and Patrick McCloud of A & K about China as an emerging destination. They spoke about improvements to roads and airports and an increase in the number of upscale hotel options available to visitors. They focused on how China has become a destination worthy of not just one, but many visits. From river cruises, to small villages, to emperors palaces and tombs, China has something for everyone. It is safe, it is unique and the history and culture will not disappoint even the most well traveled individuals. The food has been amazing and i have yet to be served even one bug, cat or lizard.
China is an emerging destination and in my opinion, one that is worth visiting. For you know that when Starwood hotels commits to opening a new hotel in a country every two weeks for the next two years, that something amazing is happening and you don’t want to miss it!