by Peter Mertz
DENVER, the United States, March 18 (Xinhua) -- America's premiere travel show debuted in the Mile High City this weekend, drawing to the downtown Colorado Convention Center thousands of visitors in crowds larger than the event's organizers had imaged.
"It exceeded our expectations," said Jonathan Golicz, marketing director for the Travel and Adventure Show, which was hosted in eight U.S. cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Las Vegas, San Diego and Denver.
Not surprisingly, the exhibitors from China were getting a lot of attention.
U.S. tourists to China increase each year. Today the number reaches more than 2 million, doubling that of a decade ago. And Chinese tourists' top destination changed from New York to Los Angeles in the past decade.
"The goal of last year's China-U.S. plan is to double the tourist exchange to 5 million a year," Ning Wu, director of the China National Tourist Office in Los Angeles, told Xinhua on Saturday.
"We love China and would tell anybody to go there," said Ella Jordan, 68, a retired nurse from Fort Morgan, Colorado.
"We went to China last year, and can't wait to go back," Jordan said, referring to her and her husband Don.
The Jordans are lifetime travelers and have been to four continents, but China has left an indelible impression.
"We've been to Changsha (in south central China), Beijing (in north China), Chengdu (in southwest China), Shanghai (in east China) and Xi'an (in northwest China)," said Don Jordan.
The highlight of Ella's trip was a visit to a remote zoo in southern China where she was able to hold a panda.
"That was magical ... it fulfilled a dream of mine," she said. "I got to hold a Panda cub on my lap."
In China, the Jordans took advantage of affordable one-way flights to visit different sights and cities.
"People don't realize how cheap it is to fly around inside the country," said Don Jordan, adding that flights cost less than 100 U.S. dollars to most domestic Chinese locations.
Other Americans stopped by the China exhibition booth to inquire about a first-time visit to the world's most populous nation.
"We can't wait to go," said Judy Brown from Colorado Springs.
"All of our friends have been to China, but we have not, so we're here to get information," said Brown, a retired school teacher.
"From what we've been told, the most difficult thing about China is what to choose -- there is so much to absorb about a country that is 4,000 years old and has a culture that is so rich," Brown said.
The ancient buildings, art and architecture of China brought Boulder native Claire Walter to the country in 1997.
"I went to see the Yangzi River before they damned it up in 1997," she said. "I keep going back ... four times now, and most recently in October last year. I can't stay away for too long."
"If you like nature and spectacular scenery, there's no place like China," said James Henson, 44, from Castle Rock, CO.
"People talk about the big cities in China like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou (in south China), but who has heard of Leaping Tiger Gorge, Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La (in southwest China)?" he asked.
"These places will knock your socks off -- more scenically dramatic and spectacular than you can imagine," Henson said.
From beauty tips for travelers, to companies building compact travel vehicles, to tour operators from Croatia and Thailand, the travel show featured a little for everybody.
At one corner of the packed exhibitor hall, TV celebrity and travel host Samantha Brown was signing autographs for a long line of admirers.
In another area, several dozen foodies crowded into seats to watch a Thai cooking class held by LA chefs Vanda and Cathy Asapahu from Ayara Thai Cuisine.
As the class simmered down and mouth-watering samples were handed to participants, the chefs quizzed the audience about the origins of Phat Thai cooking, and the five requisite spices found in Thai cooking.
On the other side of the noisy room, Peter Greenberg, Emmy Award-Winning Investigative Reporter and Producer, was telling a rapt audience of 200 about price shopping with airfares to bypass targeted price hikes by airline computers.
"Clean out our cookies, because 'big data information' knows what you' re interested in," and they will raise prices on the consumer using this personal data, Greenberg said.