The Chinese city of Hangzhou has appointed a unique new recruit who will follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and become the city’s foreign tourism ambassador for a year.
A global recruitment campaign has concluded with the announcement of 26-year-old Liam Bates as the first such ambassador to China, with a free 19-day trip to Hangzhou and a €40,000 salary as his reward for telling the world about the city, including via social media.
The Hangzhou Tourism Commission has been running the Modern Marco Polo campaign via its Facebook page since March 2013. Nearly 26,000 worldwide entries to the “Be the Modern Marco Polo Experience Programme” were submitted and Liam Bates was announced as the successful candidate at a press conference in Hangzhou on the morning of Tuesday 20th May.
Having grown up in the UK and Switzerland, Liam comes from a multinational background, with a British father and an American mother. He studied at the University of British Columbia in Canada and currently lives in Beijing, having first visited China as a 17-year-old boy.
Hangzhou in south-eastern China is one of the country’s biggest cities but retains its beautiful scenery and attractions such as West Lake – a UNESCO World Heritage Site - and the Grand Canal, which is bidding to be granted the same status. The success of the Modern Marco Polo campaign led to Hangzhou being the most Googled destination in China in 2013 and the aim now is to build on these positive results by attracting increasing numbers of international tourists.
Legendary Italian traveller Marco Polo, one of the first westerners to visit Hangzhou back in 13th century, described it as: “The City of Heaven, the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.”
The city is well connected, with its international airport serving destinations in Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia, while rail services see direct trains link to more than 50 cities, including 12 daily services to Beijing and more than 100 to Shanghai. Within Hangzhou itself, a new metro network was opened in 2012 and continues to expand. The first bike-share scheme in China was established in the city in 2008 and has grown to be the biggest in the world, with 66,500 bikes operating from 2,700 stations.
Liam will now embark on his journey in and around Hangzhou during which he will gain an insight into Chinese culture and heritage, including Chinese tea, silk, traditional medicines, the art of sigillography (seal making) and martial arts.
Commenting on his new role as the Modern Marco Polo, Liam said: “It’s great news. I’m really excited and look forward to learning more about Hangzhou and telling the world about the many attractions of both the city and Chinese culture.
“I think one of the fascinating things about Marco Polo was his bridging of two cultures, teaching the East and West about each other. It’s a privilege to be able to follow in his footsteps and act as a 21st Century source of information about China.”
Mr. Zhao Hongzhong, spokesperson for the Hangzhou Tourism Commission, said: “We have searched across the globe for the Modern Marco Polo and have been looking for someone who is energetic, adventurous and loves a challenge.
“We are delighted to appoint Liam to the role. He possesses all of the right qualities and we have no doubt that he will be an excellent representative for Hangzhou over the coming year. Our city is an ideal destination for tourists and we look forward to Liam telling the world about all that Chinese culture has to offer.”