An invitation to go wild

The United States hopes Chinese visitors discover its national parks’ natural allure, especially following visa relaxations. Yang Feiyue and Erik Nilsson report.

Grizzlies and geysers. Moose and mountains. Coyotes and caverns.

The United States hopes to show Chinese visitors its wild side.

Beyond its urban jungles are some of the most inconceivable natural places the planet has sired, enshrined as national parks.

The number of visitors to these conservancies last year rivaled that of the country’s population.

Tourism authorities expect the 10-year multi-entry visa policy introduced in late 2014 will coax more inbound Chinese beyond gateway cities to pristine parks, where wildlife wanders across geological marvels.

That’s especially since 2016 marks the US-China Tourism Year announced two weeks ago and the parks system’s centennial. Consequently, Brand USA, the body created to promote inbound tourism, will soon introduce its Great Outdoors program.

“It’ll enable Chinese to experience national and state parks, so they can see the country’s wild side in addition to its metropolises,” says Brand USA Shanghai’s public relations and cooperation director Anita Jia.

Brand USA plans to screen a documentary featuring 30 US parks in IMAX 3-D and 2-D in Chinese theaters in April or May.

Gateway metropolises, such as Log Angeles, San Francisco and New York are the most popular destinations for Chinese, especially first-time visitors.

“The 10-year visa can help Chinese tourists better explore the US’ vast territory,” says Huang Shiming, who holds the decadelong visa.

It’s because Huang often visits the United States that he branched out beyond cities to discover Yosemite’s ancient forests and geological quirks last March.

“Magnificent cedars tower as high as skyscrapers,” says the resident of Hunan’s provincial capital, Changsha.

“I’ve been to lots of US shopping malls, amusement parks and beaches. It was nice to explore the country’s nature.”

He was astonished by Yosemite’s verdant vegetation, snowcapped summits and wondrous waterfalls, he says.

Major outbound-travel operator Beijing Utour International Travel Service Co says it has increased and enhanced packages based on US parks since the visa change.

“More people will take multiple US trips. They’ll seek different in-depth experiences off the beaten track,” Utour’s publicity manager Li Mengran says.

“Our parks’ tours have proven popular with seasoned travelers. They all sell out during major holidays like (the weeklong) National Day vacation.”

Hiking and camping in Earth’s most unearthly places are the favorite Chinese pastimes, Li explains.

Yellowstone, Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon take top spots on Chinese itineraries, he says.

A 10-day driving trip covering Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in April currently costs roughly 25,000 yuan ($3,800) on Utour’s website.

Park travel can prove pricier than conventional tours because the destinations are remote, Li explains.

The travel agency also offers US driver’s licenses.

Petrified forests, mounts whittled into arches and orifices from which Earth spits water skyward await visitors.

They can camp, hunt and fish in these vast reserves. Many offer mule trails and horse camps.

Individual travelers like Huang are becoming a stronger force among Chinese visitors to the US, who were previously predominately group travelers, Jia says.

Since this species of tourist tends to use the Internet to research destinations, the US is pitching its parks through such platforms as, leading Chinese video-streaming websites like Youku, messaging platform WeChat and Sina Weibo-China’s answer to Twitter.

“National parks preserve natural and historical sites, including coasts and mountains, battlefields and monuments,” Jia says.

“Misty mountains, flying falcons and shafts of sunlight streaming through primitive forests await travelers. Some sites also enable Chinese visitors to feel the national spirit of independence and freedom.”

Huang plans to visit the Grand Canyon during his June trip to Las Vegas.

“I’ve seen magnificent photos,” he says.

“Since it’s not too far away from the city I’ll be in, I’ll definitely check it out.”

That is, he’ll again answer the call of the wild.

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