Chinese visitors blossom on valley tourism scene

Debbie Kovalik and Barbara Bowman are veterans of the international-travel trade-show circuit, having stuffed their suitcases with brochures and guides every year for the last 20 years in an attempt to draw tourists from around the world to the Grand Valley.

But Kovalik, the executive director of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, and Bowman, the bureau’s director of sales, encountered something three years ago they hadn’t seen before at these trade shows: Chinese tour operators.

And with those operators came a new market to target.

In 2009, a tour company booked seven buses filled with Chinese tourists to tour portions of the valley. Last year, the number of bookings grew to 17. Already this year, it’s ballooned to 27, according to Kovalik. That’s 27 tour buses, each filled with 30 to 50 passengers.

It’s a shot in the arm for the local tourism industry and an opportunity to tap further into a new source of revenue and broaden the valley’s vacation appeal.

“That is just an astonishing growth rate from my perspective, because we haven’t seen any up until two years ago,” Kovalik said. “Now it’s gone from zero to 100 (mph) in less than 20 seconds.”

She said the majority of the Chinese tour groups pass through the Grand Valley on 10-day national parks tours. Grand Junction is an attractive place to stop because of its location on Interstate 70, close proximity to national parks like Canyonlands, Arches and Grand Canyon and full-service hotels that offer bars, restaurants and meeting space.

Those groups usually visit Colorado National Monument and stay just one night in Grand Junction before moving on, Kovalik said.

The other tour groups that come to the valley are on seven or 10-day tours of Colorado and may also check out downtown Grand Junction and a few of the area’s wineries during their visit.

Kovalik and Bowman plan to build on the surge of Chinese tourists vacationing in the valley. They’ve scheduled appointments with three Chinese tour operators, two of whom are new, at the U.S. Travel Association’s International Pow Wow in San Francisco later this month.

And Colorado’s Tourism Office, with which the Visitor and Convention Bureau works closely, soon will have a representative in China, adding to the office’s representatives in key foreign markets, such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany, according to Kovalik.

“We see tremendous potential for that (market) to grow over the next two years because that industry tends to copy itself,” she said.


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