- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada officials are closing a tourism office that they have operated in Beijing since 2004, citing differing visions from their counterparts in China and saying they want to restructure their operation to reflect an evolving tourism landscape in China.

The state Board of Examiners voted Tuesday to approve more than $52,000 in severance costs for the Beijing office’s longtime director, Karen Chen, and two other staff members. The office is scheduled to be phased out through the end of 2015 in a formal process that includes submitting closing documents through the Chinese government, settling tax obligations and closing out a bank account.

“We still believe it is in the long-term benefit of the State of Nevada to close the office, but it is a complicated process,” Nevada tourism director Claudia Vecchio wrote in a memo provided to the board.

Nevada signed an agreement in 2004 that made it the first state licensed to open an official tourism promotion office in Beijing. The branch provided sales and marketing outreach to the Chinese travel industry as well as individual tourists, according to the memo.

But Vecchio wrote that it has become clear during the past decade that tourism officials in China and in Nevada “had very different ideas about the relationship” between the Nevada tourism commission and Chen.

Asked to expound on the decision, Vecchio described the move as a restructuring that would make tourism promotion efforts in China look more like those in Nevada’s 10 other international tourism offices - a local vendor contracted to provide outreach.

The old model “had more of a government-to-government focus, which was critically important in 2004. But because of the way China works these days, that piece of it is not as important, so we need a really strong sales and marketing effort.”

Chinese tourists are increasingly seeking information from independent travel agencies, websites and social media, like Western travelers, instead of through government channels, she said.

The office is expected to close at the end of the year, and Vecchio said she hopes to have a new operation up and running next summer. The gap in Chinese outreach would be filled in part by Brand USA, a public-private entity that promotes the U.S. to foreign travelers, she said.

The closure of the China office comes as Nevada is trying harder to attract international tourists. The Nevada Commission on Tourism sponsored several receptions overseas when Gov. Brian Sandoval visited Europe this summer for his five-country trade mission, and the agency is working to open a new trade office in India.

Sandoval visited Beijing during a 2012 trade mission.

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