China Southern Airlines, the world's fourth-largest airline and the largest in Asia, has joined hands with Visit California, an industry-funded tourism board, to boost the influx of Chinese travelers to California.
Under an agreement signed by the two sides last week in San Francisco, the airline and board will jointly commit million to fund marketing programs in China, including special festival promotions and branding campaigns.
It will enable Visit California and China Southern Airlines to partner on direct-to-consumer travel trade and public relations initiatives in China.
The agreement is Visit California's first cooperative marketing agreement with a Chinese airline and China Southern's first deal with a US destination. It follows a memorandum of understanding signed by the two organizations in May 2016 at China Southern Airlines headquarters in Guangzhou.
"This deal marks an important milestone in strengthening the connection between two economic powerhouses — China and California," said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California. "Our investment in China is essential to ensuring California remains a top travel destination and that California's tourism industry continues to thrive."
Visitors from China play a significant role in fueling the state's economic growth. The joint marketing efforts will increase visitation by boosting California's visibility in China, particularly in the southern region of the country, according to Beteta.
Given the great economic power and untapped potential of Chinese visitors, Visit California's investment in China has grown from 0,000 in 2008 to nearly million in less than a decade.
California is among the most popular destinations in the US for Chinese tourists. China Southern launched its first direct flight to the US in 1997 between Guangzhou and Los Angeles.
The airline added two flights — Guangzhou-Wuhan-San Francisco and Guangzhou-San Francisco — in 2014 and 2015 respectively, bringing its total number of flights between California and China to 18 a week.
The company said they expect the partnership with Visit California to bring more travelers to California on Southern Airlines' planes and that they will continue investment in California and North America to meet the increasing demand of air travel between China and the US.
Last year, California welcomed 1.1 million Chinese tourists who collectively spent a record .5 billion in the state. The state has seen an 899 percent growth in Chinese visitors in the last 10 years and the number of Chinese tourists to California is expected to exceed 1.8 million by 2018.
As the fastest growing tourism market to California, China is expected to overtake Canada soon as the largest international market to the state.
Tourism is a key pillar of California's economy, directly supporting more than 1 million California jobs and generating a record .9 billion in state and local tax revenue last year, according to Visit California.
"Travel and tourism is one of California's most significant and innovative industries that support the state as a growing global economic leader," said California State Assembly member Kansen Chu.
Smart partnerships, like the agreement between Visit California and China Southern Airlines, will grow California's tourism economy and support the California dream for years to come, said Chu, who also chairs the State Assembly's committee on arts, entertainment, sports, tourism and internet media.