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Benjamin Spillman

Nevadan at work: Tourism official works to show Chinese that Nevada is more than Las Vegas

20 November 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada and CHINA -- Las Vegans are acutely aware their fortunes ebb and flow with the number of tourists who come to Nevada and the amount of money they leave behind.

So residents and workers in the resort-dependent economy should be happy to know they've got an ally cultivating one of the world's richest deposits of deep-pocketed potential visitors: China.

The Asian nation has more than 1.4 billion residents, 35 million of whom travel outside China.

That's nearly equal to the total number of people who visit Las Vegas in a year.

But it's well below the number of Chinese who actually come to Nevada, about 493,000.

Enter Karen (Hongxia) Chen.

She's the face of Nevada in China.

Chen, who studied English in Reno and learned to ski at Lake Tahoe, works in Beijing for the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

Her work with the Chinese government helped Nevada land license No. 13 from the People's Republic of China Central government and the China National Tourism Administration.

The license is required to advertise in China and it made the tourism commission the first American tourism agency to get such an endorsement. And it made Nevada the only state at the time licensed to promote itself in China.

It gave the Nevada tourism industry a foothold in the lucrative Chinese market and helped bring Chinese media to places like Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City, Virginia City and Lake Tahoe.

Question: Describe your experience as a Nevadan.

Answer: I lived in Reno for eight months studying English. It was quite an interesting time. I learned to ski at Lake Tahoe.

Question: What's your relationship to Nevada now?

Answer: First, I work with media to introduce Nevada tourism resources to Chinese tourists and promote Nevada as a great travel destination, shopping paradise and entertainment center of the world.

Second, I help Chinese tour operators create itineraries for tourists to encourage Chinese tourists to stay longer in Nevada. I also teach Chinese tour operators to learn more about Nevada and sell more tourism products.

Third, I organize tours for media and tour operators every year. Through tours Chinese media and tour operators can experience Nevada for themselves so they can create more stories and more products to sell in China.

Also, I developed a Chinese Web site, which makes it easier for Chinese tourists to understand all we have. I have also translated many materials about Nevada tourism resources, made Chinese digial video discs and Chinese brochures.

Finally, I work with the governments of both the United States and China to influence their policies to make it easier for tourists to visit Nevada.

Question: What is the impression of Nevada in China?

Answer: Before I promoted Nevada in China most Chinese had no idea about Nevada. Most of them know Las Vegas. But they recognize Las Vegas as a gambling city only. A typical dialogue between me and a Chinese person starts with me asking: "Have you been to Nevada before?" They answer: "No." I ask again: "Have you been to Las Vegas before?" They answer: "Yes, many times."

Now more and more Chinese know about Nevada. Chinese tourists stay in Nevada longer than before and do more activities during their stay.

Question: What is something most Chinese don't understand about Nevada and something most Nevadans don't understand about China?

Answer: The cultures.

Question: Is there anything that makes your job uniquely Nevadan?

Answer: Yes. I feel I am like a bridge between Nevada and China. Through my work I connect Nevadans and Chinese together.

Question: What's the favorite part of your job?

Answer: The favorite part of my job is to help people of two countries know and understand each other.