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MasterCard : Montanans probe for piece of Chinese tourism market

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10/04/2017 | 04:20pm CEST

Busloads of Chinese tourists stop at Big Sky Resort and Katie Grice wants to be ready.

Theyre either leaving or heading into one of the national parks and stay with us for one or two nights, Grice said. Its a challenging piece of business.

More than 70 million Chinese travel overseas on vacation annually. Tempting them to include Montana on their itineraries remains an uphill grunt. Nearly one in three Chinese tourists pick their destinations by shopping opportunities, according to business analysis firm McKinsey and Co. Outdoor adventure lags behind.

Thats posed challenges for U.S. businesses, which arent prepared for Chinas burgeoning mobile-pay culture built around smartphone apps like Alipay. Chinas relatively new credit card, UnionPay, has tussled with Visa and Mastercard for cash register access.

In confounding fashion, UnionPays near monopoly status within China gives it the worlds largest slice of the global bankcard transaction business: 37 percent of the $21.6 trillion paid in 2015 according to RBR, a London-based credit market consultant. But outside the nation, it gets only half a percent of the global credit market, while Visa and Mastercard absorb 81 percent.

At Whitefish Mountain, resort spokeswoman Riley Polumbus said Chinese UnionPay cards get processed through Discover Cards financial network. But there arent too many occasions where that solution gets used, she said. Chinese tourists havent been much of a presence in Whitefish so far.

Glacier National Park spokeswoman Lauren Alley echoed that observation.

"Glacier Park isn`t yet on the bus circuit (for Chinese tour groups) like Yellowstone is," Alley said. Nevertheless, the park has published brochures in Chinese and is seeking funding for more publications particularly about bear safety and wildlife viewing.

While China has its share of eye-popping scenery and wild country, its own people havent embraced the Great Outdoors as a playground. For example, most of the visitors exploring the 13,000-mile-long Great Wall spend two to three hours there.

Emilie Saunders at the Montana Department of Commerce said Yellowstone National Park has been a big draw for Chinese tourists, although the state hasnt marketed itself much in China.

State tourism staff have responded by producing Montana guidebooks and websites in Chinese characters, offering workshops on Chinese visitor preferences and cultural considerations, and meeting with Chinese tour operators at international trade shows.

Several factors confront Montanas tourism industry regarding Chinese visitors not the least being the language barrier. While phone-app translation programs have grown more effective person-to-person, that doesnt help when a restaurant needs to print the daily special in Mandarin characters.

After that, Chinese tourists tend to come in chartered groups, rather than as families or independent travelers. That makes it hard if youre guiding fishing trips or renting mountain bikes.

They will take the tram tours to the summit (of Lone Peak, Big Skys 11,166-foot landmark) and ride the chairlifts, Grice said of the busloads of Chinese guests. But I dont know much about their backcountry interest.

Most of those visitors come in the summer. That might change as Beijing approaches its host duties for the 2022 Winter Olympics. In 1996, barely 10,000 Chinese listed skiing as a personal activity. In 2016, that number had ballooned to more than 11 million, according to Daxue Consulting, a Beijing-based market research firm.

(c) 2017 THISDAY NEWSPAPERS LTD. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info)., source Middle East & North African Newspapers

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