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Wisconsin is hardly the most obvious tourist destination for China’s outbound travelers. But as the home of Harley-Davidson, cheese curds, and architect Frank Lloyd Wright, it offers a flavor of Midwestern America unlike anywhere else.

Agriculture and manufacturing may be the industries most commonly associated with the state, but with 112 million visitors in 2018 (reaching $21.6 billion in revenue), tourism is an increasingly important industry in Wisconsin. And America’s Dairyland is using the cultural diversity of Milwaukee and its stunning natural scenery — the state borders Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and the Mississippi River — to connect with the world’s biggest, and most lucrative, travel market.

“Tourism in Wisconsin continues to see steady economic growth,” said Tourism Secretary, Sara Meaney, “we see tremendous growth opportunities that will help us tell the story of Wisconsin and attract new travelers to explore some of our most unique offerings.”

China is one such growth opportunity and Travel Wisconsin — the state’s official DMO— has partnered with Great Lakes USA, a marketing consortium of the Great Lake states, to expand its promotional efforts. The travel group works with ChinaPro Marketing Partners, a cross-cultural marketing agency headquartered in Chicago, and together Wisconsin is gaining traction with Chinese travelers.

Great Lakes USA posts regularly on Weibo and WeChat as well as Chinese travel OTA’s such as Ctrip and Tuniu. They also work with KOLs to publicize the virtues of a vacation in this vast region of great natural beauty. Most recently, they held a media trip at Whistling Straits, which is set to host the 2020 Ryder Cup. They invited Chinese Travel + Leisure Golf Magazine, and Chinese actor Guangjie Li to promote the golf event across its media channels.

Toby McCarrick, Executive Director, Great Lakes USA

Toby McCarrick, Executive Director, Great Lakes USA, interviewed for Chinese state media. Image: Sohu Screenshot

These efforts build off Great Lakes USA’s first sales mission to Beijing that took place at the start of 2019. Delegates from the six Great Lakes states took a five-day tour to connect with major Chinese travel agencies including Shanghai U-tour International Travel Service, Jin Jiang Travel, China Travel Service Zhejiang Group, and America International Travel Service. They signed a strategic partnership agreement to develop travel products and boost travel opportunities.

While the effectiveness of such partnership agreements remains to be seen, The Great Lakes USA received considerable media attention in China. More than 20 influential news platforms, including Youku, Sina Weibo, and Sohu covered the China tour generating millions of impressions in the process.

Wisconsin’s push to connect to Chinese travelers remains in its infancy, but with sport tourism on the rise in China the state is wise to showcase a highlight of the sporting calendar. Expect an abundance of Chinese faces in the crowd when Europe and America tee off in September next year.

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