China isn’t Arizona’s top source of overseas visitors—but that might soon change, thanks to a surge in interest from Chinese travelers and marketing efforts tailored to them by the Arizona Office of Tourism.

According to research released this week by the Arizona Office of Tourism, visitation from China increased 20 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year.

“China is our fastest-growing overseas market,” said Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. “This is the seventh consecutive year we’ve seen an increase in visitors from China, and we expect the trend to continue.” 

Nearly 77,000 Chinese travelers came to Arizona in 2016, making China the state’s No. 4 source of overseas visitors (behind Germany, Britain and France). But the potential for increased visitation from the world’s most populous nation dwarfs that of its European counterparts.

“(The Arizona Office of Tourism) has contracted international media and travel-trade representation in China for the past four years,” Johnson said. “And our reps have told us that Arizona is the next ‘it destination’ for the Chinese.”

In addition to having representation on the ground in China, the Office of Tourism media relations manager who handles the Chinese market speaks fluent Mandarin.

To increase awareness of Arizona in China, the Office of Tourism has conducted several media and travel trade missions to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Arizona tourism officials have also partnered with Brand USA to bring Chinese media, influencers and travel professionals to Arizona. These programs are designed to educate journalists, travel agents and tour operators about Arizona’s tourism assets. 

“Chinese travelers have a strong interest in national parks, road trips and shopping—all things Arizona is well positioned to promote,” said Tina Yao, general manger of AVIAREPS, which represents the Arizona Office of Tourism in China.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Chinese travelers spent $27 billion more in the U.S. in 2015—more than any other international outbound market.

“Besides being prolific travelers, the Chinese are extremely active on social media channels like WeChat and Weibo, and images of places like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley have a huge impact on travel behavior,” Yao said.

In addition to education efforts, the Office of Tourism is working with Ctrip—a leading provider of travel services in China—to create an “Arizona Flagship Store” on its website. The Office of Tourism is also partnering with Expedia to sponsor screenings of the film “National Parks Adventure” in theatres throughout China and on Youku, which is one of country’s most popular video websites. 

(The film already has garnered half a million views on Youku in only four weeks.) This program includes a dedicated landing page featuring Arizona hotel inventory on Expedia and in China.

“Our marketing efforts in China are paying dividends,” Johnson said. “As more affordable and more frequent air service becomes available to China’s exploding middle class, it’s easy to see a day in the near future when China is our No. 1 overseas feeder market.”