Brand USA recruits Chinese pop star to bring back tourists

Pop singer Jane Zhang poses on the red carpet as she arrives for the screening of the film "The Homesman" in competition at the 67th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes

(Reuters) - Chinese pop star Jane Zhang will front Brand USA's biggest ever campaign on the Weibo social network next month as the part-public body strives to turn around a drop in Chinese tourists during an increasingly acrimonious trade war.

Mandopop star Zhang, who is nicknamed the "Dolphin Princess" for her high vocal register, has been filming in Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco for the campaign, set to be called "Feel the USA", the organization told Reuters.

Brand USA, which markets the United States as a travel destination, hopes the move will lead some of her 42 million Weibo followers to visit after a year marked by falling Chinese tourist numbers that has alarmed hoteliers and retailers.

"(It is) the biggest consumer initiative we've had with Sina Weibo since we began working together five years ago," marketing chief Tom Garzilli said in a statement.

Brand USA declined to say how much they were investing in the campaign, but the most recent numbers show Zhang's task is daunting.

After growing 16% or more annually in recent years, Chinese arrivals to the United States fell 6% in 2018 and another 3% in the first six months of this year as changes in visa policy, government warnings on gun violence and the trade conflict discouraged travellers.

San Francisco Travel, one of the industry-funded bodies involved in the campaign, says U.S. firms and agencies are working harder to understand how to target China's increasingly prosperous middle class.

It will spend about 10% to 15% more on marketing the city's attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge in China this year, marketing chief Howard Pickett said.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham)