11/11/2012 10:41 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Shanghai Surprises: Religious Tourism in the 'New New York'

Shanghai is fast becoming "Manhattan of the East." My recent visit illustrated that commerce, politics and religion are becoming connected between the trading partners, the United States and China, in this dynamic international city. Good for business and good for friendship. Our distinguished Chinese government host asked me to slice the first piece of the carefully prepared roasted duck in the very same place where China's Premier Zhou Enlai and U.S. President Richard Nixon ate the same delicacy 40 years earlier, showcasing tantalizing tales and tastes for visitors to experience. Our stimulating conversation led to learning that Shanghai was the safe haven for many Jews during World War II and that there is a "Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum" worth visiting. Nearby there is a magnificent basilica called "Our Lady of Sheshan" with an interesting history. We all agreed that these historical anecdotes of Judaism and Christianity in China promoted to American and Chinese tourists are good for commerce, good for politics and good for society. It made us ponder if American foreign policy leaders who helped advance Sino-American relations including Dr. Kissinger ever imagined the China which exists today.

Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration working in concert with developers and the hospitality industry is aggressive in positioning Shanghai as the "new New York." Rapid change best describes my observations over the last several years while commuting to China regularly for business and government meetings. Major cities across China are being developed to look more like notable U.S. cities. Shanghai, "Manhattan of the East," is the best example of this plan. A modern skyline along the famous Bund and harbor along with ethnic architecture preservation like found in the French Concession reminds one of the Big Apple, New York City. But Chinatowns in the U.S. are not yet on par with China's quaint authentic historic towns.

In our visit to communities surrounding Shanghai, homes look like estates in the Orange Counties of California or Florida with man-made lakes on golf courses and Disney will soon open a theme park. Juxtaposed to this, real ancient villages with traditional Chinese courtyard houses exist side by side to the modern. We visited one such traditional village "Wuzshou." This popular place is explored by over 10,000 paying visitors a day who generate more than a million yuan ($150,000) daily in entrance fees alone into the local Chinese economy.

Imagine if America invested in developing and marketing our classical historic places like Natchez, Mississippi or downtown Detroit for the soulful Motown experience. What a difference it could make to creating sustainable jobs including in our struggling inner cities. We do not need to raise income or corporate taxes on any American to accomplish this job-creating objective. Just enforce collecting the enormous tax dollars not being paid by foreign owned tourism companies doing business in America.

China has a focused plan for future development with tourism, training and commerce central to their economic growth and global influence strategy. China's government understands the importance of tourism and they are making the investments necessary to prepare a multi-lingual, service-trained work force to compete globally for tourist dollars. Scores of Chinese students are being educated at America's best universities and China's academic institutions are being expanded to prepare next generations of their workers to compete in the service industry including fluency skills in English.

America would be wise to garner American private and public sector experts to create a focused strategic growth plan to ensure Americans are well-prepared to work, to serve, to manufacture and to compete with more "Made in the USA" products and services. That is the huge economic benefit of attracting more tourists to America from China and from other countries, the primary mission of American-owned, AmericanTours International. Showcasing Main Street USA towns and our amazing national parks across America from "Hollywood to Broadway," traveling by ATI Motorcoach meeting many Americans is the best way for visitors to experience the "real America." Chinese tourists spend on average $6,000 per person shopping at our outlet malls. That's helping create more jobs and selling a lot of "Made in USA" Coach handbags, the favorite brand for Chinese to own.

Shanghai surprises continue to unfold as this cosmopolitan city combines the past with the future, now offering religious tourism as another reason to visit. The Shanghai government is actively promoting the history of "The Jews in Shanghai" in brochures stating that from 1933 to 1941, Shanghai became a modern-day "Noah's Ark" and a safe refuge to 30,000 Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust in Europe. While there is a Jewish Museum in Shanghai, there is also the Chabad Lubavitch in Beijing with a community center, kosher food and Menorah Academy.

The Kaifeng Jewish community in Henan Province is also interesting to visit, dating back to the 7th century Tang Dynasty with some intriguing history. Rabbis were called mullahs there because of the historic influence of Muslims in the mixed culture. China enjoys good diplomatic relations with Israel and discussions are ongoing for Israel to allow Kaifeng Jewish descendants to immigrate to Israel should any desire.

Shanghai is full of surprises but then so is New York City which is one of the world's favorite tourism
destinations. The late decision taken to cancel the New York City Marathon race was not well received by the 10,000
overseas visitors. It behooves the real Manhattan to remember that tourists do vote, with their wallets -- that means lower hotel taxes and higher appreciation for them choosing to come to New York is
important. Cities compete for tourist dollars. Mayor Bloomberg making the international NYC marathon
runners feel welcome is a good start or next time they may run in Shanghai.

Since AmericanTours International arranges purposeful travel to visit Cuba for Jewish Groups as a specialty (holding the TSP license required in the United States to arrange these authorized services) China will now become the newest destination for AmericanTours to bring Jewish travelers as well as Christian pilgrims. Already AmericanTours has arranged for Buddhist groups to visit famous sites across China. This in-depth AmericanTours cultural program will afford the special opportunity and unique experience to now also learn about the fascinating history of Jews and Christians in China and witness the growth of religion and commerce in this quickly evolving nation. Watch for more surprises.