Chinese tourists aren't very familiar with Montana. Until you mention Yellowstone National Park.
“It’s put up there with the pyramids of Giza,” said John McKee, the co-owner of Butte distillery Headframe Spirits, who was part of a recent trade delegation to China. “It’s a top-10 destination in the world.”
Tourism was a major topic of discussion during the trip, led by Gov. Steve Bullock. And that offers a chance for just about every Montana business – not just the ones with products they can ship across an ocean – to cash in on the world’s second-largest economy.
Right now, most Chinese tourists fly into Seattle, then to Salt Lake City, and are bused to Yellowstone. When state representatives pitched flights into Bozeman, a mere 90 minutes away from the park, “they were blown away,” McKee said.
Two tourist groups traveled with the delegation and helped to redefine travel opportunities for major destinations. Glacier National Park doesn't garner the reverence Yellowstone evokes, but there‘s still significant interest, McKee said.
Travel between the two locations could be a boon for southwest Montana. McKee said that if business can build connections with tourist services, it could create a steady stream of visitors.
The trip was Montana’s first trade mission to the country. Bullock invited state officials and business leaders who were well-positioned to pitch products to the rapidly growing economy.
“China is a country with great trade potential for Montana – perhaps our greatest opportunity for trade growth in the world,” Bullock said. The trade mission returned last week.
The trip was meticulously planned, said McKee, with multiple meetings detailing preparation and coordination with officials already in China.