Explore Fairbanks signs deal on gov’s China trade trip

  • Explore Fairbanks CEO Deb Hickok, right, signs a deal for travel trade representation with East West Marketing at the Grand Hyatt Beijing on May 24 alongside Gov. Bill Walker and East West Marketing Public Relations Manager Zhenzhen Tan. (Photo/Courtesy/Explore Fairbanks)

Alaska travel industry leaders have long been trying to establish a presence in China, and Explore Fairbanks now has its proverbial foot in the door.

The lead promoters of the Golden Heart City announced May 25 that a day prior they inked a deal with East West Marketing Corp. to represent them in the largest, mostly untapped visitor market on the planet.

Explore Fairbanks CEO Deb Hickok signed the contract in Beijing while part of Gov. Bill Walker’s 12-day “Opportunity Alaska” trade mission to the country which wrapped up May 30.

“This contractual relationship between Explore Fairbanks and East West marks another quantum leap for tourism from China to Alaska and for cultural exchange among our citizens,” Walker said in an Explore Fairbanks release.

Walker said prior to the trip that the trade mission was largely spurred by China President Xi Jinping’s extended layover in Anchorage on his way home from a meeting with President Donald Trump in April 2017.

That same meeting laid the initial groundwork for the ongoing partnership between three large Chinese companies and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to collaborate on the Alaska LNG Project, according to Walker.

Explore Fairbanks Tourism Director Scott McCrea said in an interview that the tourism arrangement will not only help Explore Fairbanks make traditional business connections with tour operators, travel agents and the like in the country’s top cities, but will also give the Alaska organization a presence on Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat and Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

“We think here in the U.S. that we’re tied into our social media — within China I think it’s even more so, and it’s very difficult for us here in the U.S. to know now to use it properly without someone who, one, speaks the language, but is familiar with how to use those platforms to reach out, not just to travel trade (businesses) but to consumers as well,” McCrea commented.

The arrangement will also build on the business missions to China that Explore Fairbanks has coordinated with Visit Anchorage and other travel trade companies, such as the Alaska Railroad over the past three years, according to McCrea.

Explore Fairbanks officials will certainly welcome visitors traveling to the Interior at any time and for any reason, but in particular they hope partnering with East West Marketing can help raise awareness among Chinese travelers that Fairbanks is the premier place on Earth to see the northern lights.

“The Chinese visitor mix is changing and a majority of tourists are now fully independent travelers and seeking unique personal travel experiences,” East West Marketing CEO Alina Xiang said in an Explore Fairbanks release. “Fairbanks offers visitors a fascinating opportunity to experience the northern lights and create a lasting travel memory.”

Aurora viewing is the driver behind the direct charter flights that Japan Airlines has operated for about 15 years out of that country to Fairbanks, McCrea noted, and the goal is to eventually establish a similar network in China, he said. China Airlines has flown charters from Taiwan to Fairbanks for three years, but a direct link from China to Alaska has yet to be established.

“Without question, for us in Fairbanks, (the aurora) is pretty much the main attraction,” McCrea said.

“That’s a big part of our marketing message within China is to promote ourselves as an aurora destination and trying to help position ourselves over other aurora destinations that we know are attracting other Chinese visitors” such as Iceland, Norway and Canada, he added. “These are places that have pretty robust marketing budgets that we can’t quite match, but having this on-the-ground representation is certainly going to help us compete better with those other places.”

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]urnal.com.

05/30/2018 - 10:42am