AEDC excited about athletic training, Alibaba and Anchorage flights after China trip

  • Anchorage Economic Development Corp. President Bill Popp meets with Qiu Lan, a representative of the Department of Commerce of the Heilongjiang Province, at a business-to-business session during the recent trade trip to China organized by Gov. Bill Walker. (Photo/Courtesy/Anchorage Economic Development Corp.)
  • Gov. Bill Walker is seen on a tour of Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, China. (Photo/Courtesy/Anchorage Economic Development Corp.)
  • The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute put on a tasting event for buyers and food media writers during the recent trade trip to China organized by Gov. Bill Walker. (Photo/Courtesy/Anchorage Economic Development Corp.)

Two of the more immediate outcomes of Gov. Bill Walker’s trade mission to China involve Olympic athletes coming to Alaska for their winter trainings and a new direct Anchorage-China flight that could begin as early as next year.

On the 12-day Opportunity Alaska Trade Mission to China, Alaska Pacific University President Robert Onders signed a memorandum of understanding with Heilongjiang Province to cooperate on training athletes for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games that will be hosted in Beijing.

The MOU is a step toward developing a year-round international Winter Olympic training center in Alaska, an idea Walker has said evolved during his April 2017 visit with China’s President Xi Jinping in Alaska. Xi stopped in Anchorage during his trip back to China after a visit with President Donald Trump in Florida.

Bill Popp, president and CEO of Anchorage Economic Development Corp., ticked off a list of “strong potential” partnerships as an outgrowth of the Opportunity Alaska Trade Mission to China that wrapped up May 30.

A direct flight from Alaska to China has long made sense, considering the thousands of winter and summer visitors from there. This past winter, the Alaska Railroad made three trips a week between Anchorage and Fairbanks, the first time that had been done in winter, Popp said.

Due to no direct flights, it takes 15 hours to fly from Harbin, for example, for what should be a 6½ hour direct flight to Anchorage. Visitors actually fly from China over Alaska, then down to Seattle where they disembark. There, they board another plane to fly to Anchorage, Popp said.

Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province. Harbin wasn’t on the itinerary for the Alaska trade mission, Popp said, but establishing a new flight route from there has long been under discussion.

“We know that there is a strong intent to get direct passenger service between China and Anchorage International. For us this is a brass ring to pursue. It’s been years in the talking stage and we’re finally starting to see significant progress,” Popp said.

Provincial Gov. Waling Jong spoke with Walker on the trade mission about the Harbin-Anchorage stops.

“That opens Alaska to a significant amount of tourism,” Popp said. “I’m not using enough hyperbole to describe it, hundreds of millions more people. Imagine if we had a much shorter air route, a significant difference.”

Of the 26 business delegates that traveled on the mission, breakout groups met with individual Chinese delegations set up by the China Investment Corp, considered the world’s third-largest sovereign wealth fund. The corporation set up face-to-face meetings with 72 Chinese businesses, according to the governor’s office.

One of those was with Alibaba, ranked in the top 10 worldwide by Fortune Global 500, Popp said.

“It’s a huge company, their Amazon, but more like Amazon on steroids that sells a massive amount of goods throughout the world,” Popp said.

Alaskans were told how to sell products via Alibaba. The Alaska businesses learned of Alibaba as an export portal for seafood, baby food and other Alaska-made products that could be shipped directly to Alibaba or direct to Chinese customers with Alibaba directing the transactions, Popp said.

Among the group were Bambino Baby Foods owner Zoi Maroudas, 49th State Brewing Co., Copper River Seafoods, Alaska Skylar Travel, Kachemak Bay Seafoods, Golden Harvest Alaska Seafood, Alaska Native corporations such as Bering Straits Native Corp., NANA Regional Corp. and Sealaska Corp., as well as Visit Anchorage, Explore Fairbanks and the Alyeska Resort and Hotel Alyeska.

Explore Fairbanks CEO Deb Hickok signed a contract in Beijing with East West Marketing Corp. to represent them in reaching Chinese tourists wanting to visit Alaska.

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, Explore Fairbanks Tourism Director Scott McCrea told the Journal last week.

Alibaba opens another opportunity via an app called Fliggy.

Fliggy is “a fun way of saying flying piggy, a symbol characterized by a cartoon pig head wearing aviator goggles and a scarf,” Popp said. It offers over two million travel products, Popp said, including hotel stays, tour packages and flights.

For Alaskans, using the Fliggy option would open a huge market of Chinese travelers.

Another major trade opportunity centers on the Chinese celebration of Nov. 11, an “auspicious day to travel and purchase,” Popp said.

The number 1 represents powerful numerology, and that date yields four No. 1s in 11/11. Like American Black Friday, customers rush to take advantage of special sales, a day that generates more than $35 billion in sales for China, Popp said.

Educating Alaska exporters about the date’s significance would open opportunities for them to participate in the day’s sales offerings, thus reaching millions more in potential customers, he said.

AEDC went with its own project, which Popp focused on: an arrangement to have Chinese National Aviation Fuel Co., or CNAF, deliver bulk fuel to the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage.

CNAF is the sole provider of jet fuel in China, Popp said, earning $39 billion in annual revenues.

“They deliver jet fuel to 59 international airports including L.A.,” Popp said. “They are now keen to set up a full blown operation here. We were able to arrange for a summit meeting. They have some due diligence to do, and this meeting moved the ball closer to a positive decision.”

AEDC will also be hosting workshops on specific topics related to trade between Alaska and China, Popp said.

Alaskans on the trip had access to translators to overcome language barriers. But there’s also an app called WeChat that can be downloaded to phones for translating texts, Facebook, Twitter, and debit card payments.

“Using this app, people are in open dialogue right now,” Popp said.

As for the current political environment under which Trump has placed tariffs on certain products from China, Popp said that had little impact on this trip.

“The sanctions didn’t stop them from the dialogue. There are no tariffs on tourism and that’s an export since they are paying for the services that we provide that give them a tourism experience,” Popp said.

The more money the Chinese spend on American goods and vacations, the better the trade balance between the two nations, Popp notes. Trump’s main argument to impose the sanctions is to correct the current massive trade deficit.

Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].

06/06/2018 - 10:24am