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Jane Zhang may be best known by her 42 million Weibo fans for onstage antics including her signature dolphin-whistle, but Brand USA chose the Mandopop star as the face — and voice — of its campaign to improve the fortunes of America’s tourism industry.

After 15 years of steady growth from the world’s largest tourism market, the 3 million Chinese tourists who visited the U.S. in 2018 represented a 5.7 percent year-on-year decline. The dip has prompted Brand USA, which markets the U.S. as a tourism destination on the international stage, to launch its most extensive, and presumably most expensive, campaign on Weibo.

“Feel the USA” campaign is set to roll out across China’s digital airwaves in the Fall and Zhang has been travelling through Las Vegas, New York, and San Francisco creating original content. Brand USA hopes the pop star will convince her compatriots overlook geopolitical hostilities and government safety warnings and make the U.S. a travel priority.

“[It’s] the biggest consumer initiative we’ve had with Sina Weibo since we began working together five years ago,” marketing chief Tom Garzilli announced in a statement.

Although the U.S. China trade war has cited labelled as a principal cause for the drop in Chinese travelers, other factors are proving equally dissuasive. These include changes to visa policy and the weakening value of the yuan against the dollar, which has made vacationing stateside more expensive compared to other destinations.

Since emerging on the world travel scene in the mid-2000s, Chinese travelers have often been labelled as high-spenders and, as such, the diminishing strength of the yuan has largely been overlooked.

“Chinese tourists have a lot of choices right now and many destinations around the world are actively marketing to them,” says Sienna Parulis-Cook communications manager at Dragon Trail, a digital marketing agency focused on Chinese outbound travel market, “[these destinations] are making it easier to visit, with eased visa requirements and new flights. In this context, other destinations might seem like better value for money.”

With these large-scale factors at work, it will be an uphill battle to convince Chinese travelers to return en mass to the U.S., but Brand USA certainly believes Zhang is the right person for the job.

 

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