Nonprofit uses Chinese WeChat app to boost tourism, business

The app has more than 1 billion users. Local organizations want to tap it for economic development.

EVERETT — The Chinese app WeChat lets its more than 1 billion users text, call and video chat, post photos and updates for followers, send money, order food, clothes and other goods and play games. Tourism bureaus, airlines and hotels across the world have flocked to the app to reach Chinese customers.

Economic Alliance Snohomish County, a nonprofit that acts as a countywide chamber of commerce, launched a WeChat campaign 10 months ago with posts showcasing local businesses and destinations, said Andrew Vuong, the alliance’s director of strategy, industry and diversification.

“When we meet with delegations or businesses from China, we are considered their friend simply because of WeChat,” Vuong said.

The campaign comes at a time of elevated tensions between the U.S. and China, as leaders from both countries escalate trade tariffs. Travel from China to the U.S. dropped 3% from June 2018 to June 2019, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. Vuong said WeChat helps show Chinese businesses the county is committed to its relationship with China.

He said Snohomish County is probably the first in the state to have a page on the app.

For the campaign, the nonprofit partnered with the cities of Everett, Lynnwood, Edmonds, Arlington and Marysville, Snohomish County, the county tourism bureau, the Port of Everett, the Tulalip Tribes and Everett Community College.

Russell Steele is the CEO of the Tulalip Economic Development Corporation. He traveled to China as part of a business group a few years ago.

“WeChat is the best way to communicate over there,” he said. “It’s beyond what Facebook is in this country. It’s not just personal information, it’s business too.”

Posts for the county range from features on restaurants and parks, as well as stories about entrepreneurs and businesses.

“Our goal was to promote Snohomish County with the hope that it would drive economic development,” Vuong said. “Secondly, to make sure we promote the county as a great place to live, work, play and visit.”

As of July 31, the county’s page had been seen by nearly 4,000 users, with about 1,800 active followers.

“We view this as quite successful,” Vuong said.

In 2018, eight of the top 20 regional tourism accounts with the most followers on WeChat were from cities, counties, states and areas in the United States, according to a report by Chinese market researcher Dragon Trail Interactive. Visit Seattle was 20th on the list. Additionally, Tourism Vancouver’s page was fifth.

Interest in the region reflects positively on Snohomish County, Vuong said.

Chinese government and business delegates traveling to the county for potential investments doubled from four groups to eight, in the past year, he said. The number could’ve been higher, but visa restrictions prevented some trips.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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