Traveling across the U.S is fairly easy and straightforward. You don’t need immigration papers to cross state lines, currency is consistent throughout the varying time zones, and you will have no trouble communicating in English. As you cross the seas, however, traveling on your own can become a bit more challenging, especially if you want to visit many parts of Asia. English is not nearly as prevalent, local customs are often much different, and trying to read non-Latin based language street signage is near impossible. This is why many U.S. travelers who want to see distant lands choose a guided tour, and there is one such tour that’s leaving later this year that promises an unforgettable experience where you can focus on the sites and memories instead of the logistics.
The Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce has just a few spaces left on a 10-day tour of China that leaves Seattle on October 30. This is the third trip hosted by the Chamber; something that just a few years ago wasn’t really on their radar.
“We kind of avoided it because it was usually the larger chambers that were taking these trips,” recalled Gig Harbor Chamber President and CEO Warren Zimmerman.
It wasn’t until several members started asking Zimmerman about group travel with the Chamber when the idea started gaining some traction.
In 2017, Zimmerman took a group to Tuscany on an all-inclusive guided tour. Soon after the trip had concluded, many of the attendees began asking about what the trip was going to be the following year. It was decided to go back to Italy again and tour the coastline, and after a second successful and well-received trip, a yearly offering is now likely to continue.
When Zimmerman attended a chamber conference for the Washington and Oregon region, he came into contact with a company that specializes in all-inclusive group tours to China. “This trip was originally set up under the George H.W. Bush administration as a way to take federal government workers to China to establish relationships,” said Zimmerman. The program was expanded to include U.S. private sector business owners as a way to encourage commerce and partnerships between the two nations, and Chambers are an ideal fit.
Each year the travel company now brings about 600 to 1,000 Chamber members to China, and Gig Harbor members have the opportunity to experience this adventure.
While the trip started as business oriented, this offering is really geared toward tourism and seeing some of the most famous sites in one of the oldest countries in the world. Zimmerman and his wife decided that before committing the Chamber to the trip, they would experience it firsthand.
“My wife didn’t have a lot of interest in traveling there but she eventually decided to go, and she’ll tell you it was one of the most interesting trips she had ever taken,” he said.
The package is all-inclusive, meaning all of your airfare, taxes and fees are taken care of. You are provided three meals a day, deluxe bus tours, fluent English-speaking guides and entrance fees for attractions. Accommodations are all 4- and 5-star properties that if booked on your own might cost just as much by themselves as Chamber members will pay for the entire trip. The cost is $2,299 for Chamber members and partners and $2,499 for others. The only additional expenditures is a flat gratuity and any additional shopping, dining or entertainment outside of the tour you would like to partake in. While the schedule is quite full, there are still several times and opportunities to go out and explore on your own. “We went to the Chinese Circus and it was amazing, I would highly recommend it,” said Zimmerman.
Travel begins with a flight from Seattle to Beijing. Here you will visit Tiananmen Square, the largest square in the world, as well as the Forbidden City and its 9,999 rooms. While in Beijing for three full days you will also see gardens and lakes, markets and see the exteriors of the biggest venues from the 2008 Summer Olympics including the National Aquatic Center and The Bird’s Nest, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies.
On day six, travelers board a plane to Shanghai where your experiences will be a mixture of past and present. You’ll get to see a centuries old gardens and silk factories, as well as plants that manufacture Apple phones and Samsung TVs. Watch how pearls become jewelry and tour a tea plantation and a silk rug factory across Shanghai and Hangzhou.
Chamber members who have an interest in learning more about Chinese goods and the import/export process are also able to arrange meetings with Chinese commerce officials to learn more about potential trade opportunities. “You can make some good in roads with Chinese counterparts, and we can pair you with a type of business of your choice so you can talk about different requirements,” explained Zimmerman.
While seeing all the incredible sites and centuries of history, it was some of the simple observations that stick with Zimmerman when he recalls the journey. “We had a large amount of interaction with Chinese citizens. Just watching their daily routine was very informative. They wanted to talk with us, take selfies and were very friendly toward us.”
There are a few things travelers do need to be prepared for if they are visiting a non-democratic country for the first time. You won’t have access to Google or Facebook and will find that China is more technologically savvy in the ways of banking and Internet in comparison to the U.S. Zimmerman recommends downloading ‘Google Translator’ for easy interactions at shopping areas and cafes. He also says that despite the restrictions on personal freedoms, guides are quite open to talk about their life experiences living in China. “They are willing to discuss any topic honestly and are truthful about questions of intrusion of privacy and losing rights,” he said.
Cutoff to register for the trip is June 30 and the group will max out at about 30 travelers as to not be an overwhelming number of people to wrangle. Travelers should be physically fit enough to walk upward of 5 miles per day when exploring vast gardens, the Great Wall, and large temples and other structures. Once you’ve registered, the Chamber will take care of providing all your necessary travel documentation to the travel company so you are approved to be on the group travel visa.
If you would like more information on the trip or would like to be a part of it, contact the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce at GigHarborChamber.net or call 253.851.6865.