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Ski industry severely hit by outbreak

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-27 09:26
The deserted slopes and retail outlets at Thaiwoo Ski Resort and Alpine Park in Chongli, Hebei province, bear witness to a tough month for China's ski resorts due to the coronavirus outbreak. ZHAO ZI'AN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

Work on venues for 2022 Olympics has resumed under strict supervision

Facing a tough battle against the coronavirus outbreak, China's sports governing body is stepping up efforts to support the country's suffering ski industry while cautiously pushing preparations ahead for the 2022 Winter Games.

With some sports events canceled, venues closed and consumers grounded to contain the risk of infection, the ongoing novel coronavirus epidemic has hit China's fledgling ski industry with the "coldest" winter while raising concerns over preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing and co-host Zhangjiakou in Hebei province.

The General Administration of Sport of China, though, is staying upbeat on restoring the market dynamic in the sector, which has been seriously affected by the drop in consumer visits.

"The sudden virus situation has frozen the market, caused huge losses and hit the entire sports sector with a huge blow," Peng Weiyong, deputy director of the GASC's sports economy department, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"For instance, the operation of outdoor winter sports venues around the country is facing a tough financial challenge, with most of them forced to shut down during the best season of the year."

Since the beginning of the Spring Festival holiday on Jan 24, over 95 percent of the country's 770 ski resorts have been temporarily closed, cutting the estimated number of consumer visits for the whole 2019-20 season to about 11 million-a year-on-year drop of 47 percent, according to the China Ski Industry White Paper (2019) published last week by industry analyst Carving Ski.

The report also estimated that the sector would bear total losses of up to 8 billion yuan ($1.14 billion) due to sharp declines in ski ticket sales, equipment rentals, training and accommodation for almost half the season (December to February) while continuing to incur heavy costs in wages, facility maintenance and utilities.

With winter sports participation on the rise leading up to the 2022 Olympics, the epidemic has caught the industry off guard at what was supposed to be a golden time for growth, said Wu Bin, a vice-chairman of the Beijing Ski Association.

"The negative impact of the business shutdown during the holiday season, which usually comes with a consumption peak, is catastrophic," said Wu, also president of the Beijing-based consultancy Carving Ski.

To help alleviate the crisis, the GASC has been working with local governments to provide relevant businesses with preferential policies, such as reducing land tax and offering utility subsidies.

According to a 13-measure guideline issued by the Jilin Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, ski resorts in the northeastern province, which had recorded over 300,000 resort visitors by Jan 23, will be compensated 2 million yuan each.

The cancellation of a series of competitions, including the 2022 Winter Olympics' first official test event, has sparked concerns about the preparation for the Games, but Peng stressed that the effect has been contained.

"The construction and refurbishment work at most of the 2022 venues has resumed after the holiday break under strict epidemic prevention and control measures," Peng said.

An International Ski Federation Alpine Ski World Cup meet, scheduled for Feb 15-16, was canceled in Beijing's Yanqing district.

According to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics organizing committee, Chinese organizers discussed key issues, including global ticketing, sustainability and legacy plans with the International Olympic Committee via a video conference call last week to push ahead with preparatory work.

The high-level online meeting took place in lieu of a visit to the capital by IOC executives to avoid any health risks.

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