Benjamin Li
Aug 12, 2014

Swiss-Brit adventurer emulates Marco Polo’s footsteps in Hangzhou

Liam Bates, a 26-year-old who grew up in Switzerland and London, has been named the winner of Hangzhou’s ‘Modern-day Marco Polo’ global competition.

Hangzhou Tourism's man: Liam Bates
Hangzhou Tourism's man: Liam Bates

Organised by the Hangzhou Tourism Commission, the contest was run to find someone who could raise awareness of Hangzhou among netizens in North America and Europe. A spokesman for the commission told Campaign Asia-Pacific that Hangzhou’s first brand ambassador was actually Marco Polo — when he travelled to China over 700 years ago, he described Hangzhou as a “very beautiful and glamorous” city to western readers.

The commission worked with Shanghai-based ad agency Beyond Summits on this global campaign, which was clearly inspired by Tourism Queensland’s hugely successful ‘Best job in the world’ campaign which ran in 2009.

The campaign received 26,000 applications, with candidates put through four rounds of competitions. This included writing a love story set in China and making a video to promote themselves. In the final round, Bates beat four other finalists from US, Europe, Australia and Romania.

Bates’s love for Chinese culture and adventure certainly fits the bill for the job. He first came to the country a decade ago to study Chinese and kung fu (he is a Jackie Chan fan), and later studied Chinese and film-making at the University of British Columbia. In 2009, he rode a motorbike from Lhasa in Tibet to Shanghai, and moved to Beijing. Since 2010, Bates has been working as a freelance host for Travel Channel China, a satellite television channel broadcast nationwide.

The part-time Hangzhou ambassador job comes with a US$55,000 salary, for which Bates is tasked with boosting the city’s profile through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. The commission expects him to generate interactions through social media rather than create top-down promotional content. 

To kick things off, Bates went on a 15-day trip travelling to Hangzhou in true Marco Polo style — tracing the route of the Grand Canal via Yangzhou and Suzhou. 

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