Chamber members explore China

Business leaders from the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce recently disembarked from an eight-day, nine night business journey to China.

For the first time in Chamber history, an estimated 80 members embarked from the Central Coast, thousands of miles away to China for a glimpse of its business interworking, the chance to possibly network for future business opportunities and some sightseeing along the way.

Chamber member Ron Nodder, of Templeton-based winery Chateau Lettau, said that from a business perspective the networking opportunity was a success due to a helpful Chinese government, who was able to hook up this year’s chamber travelers with solid connections in China–people interested in developing business opportunities.

While on their trip from Oct. 14 to Oct. 22, Chamber members participated in a special economic development conference, along with the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, in Beijing. The conference included representatives from Paso Robles with a heavy sampling from the local wine and olive oil industries, not to mention everything from a feng shui practitioner to an organic juice producer, among others.

The conference had a hotel-ballroom setting complete with computer setups, where Tempe and Paso chamber members presented brief summaries of their businesses.

Businessmen from China also gave presentations, including a representative of the county’s ministry of agriculture. Organizers paired Paso travelers with matching Chinese representatives conducive to their particular niches. Prior to embarking, Paso chamber officials contacted proper sources beforehand to ensure Chinese representatives with interest in what Paso had to offer were in attendance at the meeting.

More than 80 members of the chamber participated in this year’s tour, a fair number considering it’s the first time it’s taken such a journey.

“From a participatory standpoint, it far exceeded expectations,” Nodder said. “It was much more of an educational and sightseeing experience. The guides were absolutely wonderful.”

For more seasoned travelers like Nodder, who has been to places like Chiza Niza, Mexico, Machu Picchu, the Eiffel Tower and the Great Pyramids, China offered some amazing memories. He said his most memorable highlight of the trip was walking on the Great Wall of China.

During the trip, attendees visited Xi’ an with a stay at the Grant Castle Hotel, sightseeing at the Big Wild Geese Pagoda, Tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Huaqing Hot Spring Park, Great Wall of China, Bambo Museum, Suzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou and much more.

“Walking the Great Wall of China will be something I will never forget,” Nodder said. “You name it, I’ve been there, but walking the Great Wall of China, that’s just unforgettable, absolutely.”

The trip was complete with a full, daily itinerary that kept the group on its feet and moving–far beyond what members said they would have been capable of on their own. Tour company Citslinc International did a great job in helping keep things together, Nodder said. Not to mention the money — the way the trip was arranged, complete with round trip airfare, five- or four-start hotels stays, deluxe tour buses, an English-speaking tour guide, admissions tickets to attractions and attendance at a business partners’ dinner conference, went for just $1,599.

“It seemed like we really struck a chord if not with this trip than with just trips in general,” he said. “It was absolutely better than expectations. I would encourage anybody that I know. The price was fantastic, and the experience was fantastic.”

Chamber CEO Mike Gibson said that the chamber is organizing a trip to China at the end of October 2009 and said that the group tours were exceptional.

“There are two things that drove me to this kind of a trip — one was the exceptional price for what you received, and the second was that traveling individually would be a very difficult challenge in a country like China, where their language is so different as opposed to Europe and South America,” he said.

Groups were divided into about 12 to 17 and given their own tour bus and translator, something that provided for a nice group experience, Gibson said.

“You really had an opportunity to interact with a group of others familiar with your own lifestyle and age group,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people who made some friendships over the nine days.”

Gibson said the apparent demand for most of Paso’s retail exports is fairly limited, however, there are hopeful prospects for the agricultural commodities like olive oil and wine. Next year, he said that emphasis could also be placed on the cattle industry.

“I think there is an opportunity for our wine and olive production and any agricultural commodities that we have to offer,” he said.