Yellowstone and Grand Tetons to Promote Chinese Cultural Understanding

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by James Holloway
Tourists leaving the Old Faithful viewing area after an eruption [Image: Yellowstone National Park]

Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks will be hosting a workshop this February, focused on training national park workers to accommodate the rapid increase in Chinese tourists to the region over the last few years. The workshop will focus on building an understanding of Chinese cultural expectations with regards to nature, national parks, and tourism more generally.

Chinese tourists have become by far the largest group of international visitors to Yellowstone National Park. In 2017, it was estimated 3.5 million Chinese tourists visited America – an enormous increase compared to the 270, 000 that visited in 2005. Of these Chinese tourists, Yellowstone National Park predicts around 240,000 visited the park in what was the second busiest year in the park’s history.

The session will be a chance for members of the community to network and informally share experiences, strategies, and resources for improving service to Chinese tourists. It will also feature national and regional speakers, presenting on topics related to communication, marketing, Chinese culture and tourism trends for tourism in parks and gateway communities.

As the number of visitors has increased, both from China and elsewhere, Yellowstone has attempted to keep up with the changes. In the past two years, for example, Yellowstone has hired 7 Mandarin speaking rangers, and in the summer of 2016 Yellowstone conducted two separate research studies — the Transportation and Vehicle Mobility Study and the Visitor Use Study focused on visitor enjoyment — in an attempt to understand and accommodate for these recent changes.                                                                                                              

The sudden increase in Chinese tourists to the region can be attributed to a 2014 agreement between the United States and China to adopt a 10-year reciprocal visa program for tourists and business people, reached at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Beijing.

Chinese tourists contributed over $30 million to the US economy in 2015. That year, Mainland Chinese tourists contributed the largest group of tourists from the Asia Pacific region, 18% of all travelers from that region – with the number of Chinese tourists to the United States forecast to grow to a total of 7.3 million by the year 2021. In 2011, visitors from Asia contributed a total of over $277 million to the economies of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, and Montana shares a sister state with Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in China.

James Holloway is an intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and a student at the University of Sydney in Australia.