Meeting provides opportunity for new partnerships and ideas exchange
BALTIMORE, MD — In the first meeting of its kind, the Maryland Sports Commission hosted a delegation of representatives from Tongxiang, China on Friday. Several members of the Tongxiang government, along with heads of state television and radio stations, arrived in Baltimore as part of an international trade mission. The goal was for Tongxiang officials to discuss strategies aimed at developing the sport tourism industry and the potential for future partnerships between that region and the state of Maryland.
“We welcome any opportunity to connect with potential partners, whether it’s organizations from within the United States or internationally,” said Terry Hasseltine, Executive Director of the Maryland Sports Commission. “Whenever there is the opportunity to grow the sport tourism industry for the state of Maryland, we’re always interested in getting together to learn more and to share the successes we’ve experienced.”
Pan Minfang, Member of the Standing Committee and Head of the Publicity Department for the Tongxiang Municipal Committee, said that this was the first delegation from Tongxiang to visit Maryland as part of an officially sanctioned government meeting, although she previously came to the state back in 2003. Speaking through an interpreter, Minfang joked that Tongxiang is a “small town” by Chinese standards, boasting a population of more than 1.2 million people. Minfang said the delegation was in Baltimore with the hopes of developing international cooperation and partnerships and to learn about the success of the sport tourism industry in the United States.
“From what we learned, Tongxiang is an area which has a strong economy because of the manufacturing and tech industries and now they’re looking to create activities which enhance the quality of life for their residents, and that’s an area where the Maryland Sports Commission strives to be a leader and expert of,” said Ashely Harper Cottrell, Project Manager for the Maryland Sports Commission.
Cottrell handled the coordination of the visit and took the lead for the meeting. The two agencies discussed the potential for future partnerships and the overall mission of the Maryland Sports Commission. Cottrell stressed the importance of being open when it comes to welcoming new or alternative sporting event opportunities, using Quidditch as an example. Some members of the delegation were familiar with the sport from the Harry Potter franchise and were pleasantly surprised to learn that the game is now being played in a tournament-style format in the United States.
Tongxiang is located on the eastern coast of China, situated about an hour from Hangzhou and two hours from Shanghai. The area is rich in cultural history; a mix of quaint villages and modern urban high-rises. Tongxiang is known for its arts and industrial districts and is currently China’s largest distribution center for wool and silk products. In the Tongxiang area alone, the clothing industry generates more than $15 billion of revenue annually. The Tongxiang government is committed to growing the manufacturing and tech industries and the area is home to the annual World Internet Conference.
Minfang says that the most popular sports in Tongxiang are soccer and basketball and that the local government is receiving assistance from business owners as they work toward the construction of new complexes and stadiums to help develop and stimulate an interest in sport tourism in the region. Minfang also expressed an interest in developing an exchange program where young athletes from Tongxiang could come to Maryland to develop their skills hoping that one day, athletes from Maryland might travel to the area to advance sports like basketball or soccer.
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Deloitte), a multinational professional services network company, stated in its “Research Report on the Investment Environment of Tongxiang City, Zhejiang Province, China”, that Tongxiang is “situated in China’s most economically vibrant region,” known as the Yangtze River Delta. The area is noted as a strong destination for cultural tourism. Tongxiang is also the home to some of the most renowned artists and writers in Chinese history. In terms of annual tourism, Deloitte reports incredible growth over the last decade, as government representatives and local businesses are dedicated to developing “smart tourism” with a focus on building brands of tourism in historic towns, agritourism and leisure tourism.
“From time to time, the Maryland Sports Commission is approached by local municipalities from foreign governments to develop partnerships like the one that Tongxiang’s officials are hoping to establish,” said Hasseltine. “This was an incredibly positive meeting. Ms. Minfang invited our team out to Tongxiang and we hope that a partnership like this is something that could have a positive impact on the state of Maryland.”
As a token of appreciation, Minfang presented the Maryland Sports Commission with a more than century-old hand painted picture book detailing the daily life of residents in Tongxiang. Shen Qifang, Mayor of Puyuan, also displayed samples of woolen products made within the fashion district of his town.
The delegation spent the evening in Maryland before leaving for Tokyo on Saturday.