MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes is back from his ninth trip to China, which he called his most informative trip yet.
During the Chinese U.S. Tourism Summit in Ningxia he attended with MBACC President and CEO Brad Dean, Rhodes said he learned 2.6 million Chinese tourists came into the United States last year. In four years, six million tourists are expected to visit the country.
Rhodes said the average tourist stays about two and a half to three weeks and spends $9,000.
Rhodes and Dean have attended the summit together previously to promote Myrtle Beach as a tourist destination.
Dean said Myrtle Beach was only one of three destinations from the U.S. invited to do a presentation during the summit.
He said the summit is already producing results including a meeting scheduled next month with tour operators who promote tour packages in China, which mostly travel the West Coast of the U.S. He wants to see them add the Myrtle Beach area to the itinerary.
Dean said a Chinese travel journalist is coming next month to hopefully write travel articles promoting Myrtle Beach. They've also made progress to get tourists to the area more easily. Dean said Delta has expressed an interest in starting a direct flight to Atlanta from China.
Before he went to China, he said the closest direct flight is into New York or Washington D.C., so he said allowing tourists to make connections in closer airports would be beneficial.
Mayor Rhodes said Delta could start direct flights from Shanghai to Atlanta in the spring, and possibly from Beijing as well.
"We've got some amenities here that I think will be attractive to the Chinese tourists providing we get that direct flight into Atlanta," said Mayor John Rhodes.
Mayor Rhodes said he learned during the summit Chinese tourists don't mind taking bus tours to other locations or making a six-hour drive. After the summit, the mayor went to a city called Bingxhou to learn about exchange student opportunities.
"In order for us to be able to do the business the proper way then we have to be able to eliminate the third party," Rhodes said. "That's that translator. We have to teach our people how to speak Mandarin."
Mayor Rhodes spent time with the secretary general of a Chinese committee on education, who was visiting in Myrtle Beach just weeks before.
"He's very well respected," he said. "Their people were there, were prepared for us to be there, to offer any information we needed and to show us how things go."
Rhodes toured a preschool, middle school and high school.
"It's a socialist government, which makes it totally different. But they go back and they have things that we used to have in the old day and that is the respect of the teacher and the discipline of the schools, which is something that we now miss in the United States," he said.
He talked about exchanging students from Myrtle Beach to China for a couple of weeks and vice versa.
"Once they get there then they will take care of the housing, the food, the education for two to three weeks," he said. "I think that's going to be a great opportunity."
The chamber paid for the trip to China for both Dean and Rhodes using private contributions.