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At the December 2016 Monroe County Tourist Development meeting, Stuart Newman, chairman and founder of NewmanPR, gave a report on his recent trip to China to attend the annual convention of the Society of American Travel Writers.

The eminent Chinese philosopher Confucius said: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” I thought I had a pretty good idea about what to expect on my recent trip to China, but I found out that my ignorance far outweighed my real knowledge in this case.

I traveled to China two months ago to represent the Keys and Key West at the annual Society of American Travel Writers Convention. My priority was to make one-on-one contacts with leading print, broadcast and social media resources on behalf of Keys tourism marketing.

The convention was in Wenzhou — which I thought would be a modest town — but turned out to be a vibrant coastal city of almost 6 million, some 300 miles from Shanghai. It is a major manufacturing center as well as a mushrooming tourism destination.

The difference in the 30 years since I had last been in China was mind-boggling. In 1986 bicycles and rickshaws were everywhere. Now, Audis, Lexuses, Buicks and even Rolls-Royces create traffic jams in both cities.

In addition to accomplishing the media objectives, I observed the recent wave of prosperity China currently is experiencing. I estimate that 50% of the world’s construction cranes and cement mixers are there. The skyscrapers, condominiums and office buildings under construction there make Miami look like a sleepy seaside village.china-market-report2

The people, largely dressed in Western clothing, seemed to be living comfortably; restaurants and shops were doing a brisk business and the new iPhone 7s were setting record sales.

The current prosperity in China arguably was even better reflected by Starbucks — there are already more than 200 in Shanghai with 20 more opening weekly throughout China — and big-name, upscale brands such as Apple, Sony, Gucci, Citibank and Cadillac. Nike, Levys, the Gap and other popular US fashions are favorites of the Chinese.

It all adds up to a prosperous society whose newfound affluence has impacted heavily on the cruise industry as well as other vacation choices. In fact, Chinese visitors make up the fastest-growing inbound visitors to the US, according to Department of Commerce statistics. In 2015, the US saw 1.8 million Chinese inbound tourists who spent $21.1 billion here. By 2019, China will send 3.1 million tourists to the United States, an increase of 172% over 2013.

China-based representatives of the US National Travel & Tourism Office and National Geographic Traveler presented research that revealed an ever-increasing Chinese interest in visiting the US. china-market-report3

Even beyond visiting Manhattan, Washington and Hollywood, there is a growing emphasis on learning more about our culture and natural attractions, the researchers discovered. What caught my attention was that twice during the presentation, Ernest Hemingway was cited as a topic of special interest to the Chinese.

With increasing numbers of Chinese tourists projected to visit the United States during the coming years, it would seem timely for the TDC to consider exploring enhanced promotional, advertising and publicity initiatives to increase market share of this burgeoning segment.

In closing, I would like to quote another famous Chinese philosopher, albeit a fictional one. In the film “Charlie Chan’s Courage,” the great Hawaiian detective Charlie Chan said, “Always pleasant journey that ends among old friends.”

Thank you for this opportunity to address you, old friends. This was indeed a very pleasant end to a very long journey.