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By Wang Mingjie in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-05-03 07:49

Successful Winter Olympics bid spurs sports industry

Beijing's successful bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics has been the catalyst for the rapid growth of winter sports in China.

It has also seen European ski resorts raise their game after stagnating because of an ageing baby-boomer generation and a wider range of alternative leisure pursuits.


The number of skiers in China reached 13.2 million last year, up from 9.6 million in 2015, a rise of 37.5 percent, according to the latest China Ski Industry White Paper.

The white paper shows the number of ski resorts in China has grown by 81 percent over the past five years, to 742 nationwide.

The central government aims to raise the number of winter sports participants in China to 300 million by 2022, and estimates the value of the winter sports industry will reach 1 trillion yuan ($149 billion) by 2025.

Laurent Vanat, author of the International Report on Snow and Mountain Tourism, said the skiing industry is growing rapidly in China, driven by strong support from the government. "At this stage, the market potential remains mostly untapped," he said.

In Europe, most markets have a mature profile and face the challenges of an ageing society, meaning lower returns from their customer base and of worldwide competition, with holidaymakers having more choice of winter activities.

Ski operators in Europe are looking east to tap the potential market. Even a small number of Chinese skiing fans making their way to Europe could have a major positive economic impact on resorts.

St. Anton am Arlberg, a popular ski resort in the Tyrolean Alps in Austria and the gateway to the Arlberg skiing region, has found a way to court the Chinese market.

Known as the "cradle of alpine skiing", the resort invited the Chinese national skiing team to train on its slopes during the winter season.

Wilma Himmelfreundpointner, the resort's marketing director, said: "Hosting China's national team was certainly a great platform to promote St. Anton as well as the sport itself. It is a clear acknowledgement of our high standards of infrastructure and our pistes in Alpine skiing. We certainly hope this can be viewed as a strong statement to attract more Chinese visitors to our resort."

For the past two years, the Austrian National Tourist Office in Beijing, with support from tourism organizations in the Alpine states of Tyrol, Carinthia and Salzburg, has been building a strong presence in China.

In the winter of 2005, Austria welcomed only 64,000 overseas visitors, but the number rose to 322,000 last year, with more than one-third of Chinese going to Tyrol, home to many popular ski resorts.

Emanuel Lehner-Telic, Asia regional manager of the Austrian National Tourist Office in Beijing, said: "I think we are only at the beginning. China has put so much effort into building up its infrastructure, and now people are discovering the pleasure of snow 'at home'."

The tourist office has regularly invited Chinese partners to Austria to show them around and explain the important issues of ski education and safety. Lehner-Telic said. "I am sure that in a few years we will see more and more Chinese tourists on Austrian slopes."

He said Chinese visiting Austria in winter tend to do so in two different groups - those who view a short stay at an Alpine ski resort as part of a trip to Europe, and those who do so for the sport.

"Between visits to major cities, a group of friends will stay for three or four days in an Alpine resort. They consider skiing as entertainment and will take to the slopes for maybe two or three hours a day. The rest of the time they relax, either by going for walks, enjoying the local food or soaking in a spa.

"The smaller group comprises those who view skiing as a sport, so they tend to stay longer at a ski resort and spend more time on the slopes," Lehner-Telic said.

Ye Kei, 46, from Shanghai, a member of the latter group, is addicted to skiing, having visited Austria for the past seven years.

Ye said he is drawn to the country every winter by "the whole experience" - beautiful mountain scenery, long and challenging slopes, well-equipped infrastructure, the enjoyable apres-ski scene, as well as good restaurants and hotels.

"On the Alps in Austria, there is the breathtaking purity of the beauty of nature. That has really touched me and makes me want to go back again. As for the sport itself, when you go down the slopes, there is nothing else on your mind except the skiing - it's like meditation for me," he said.

Another way to attract Chinese skiers is to host events exclusively for them. In March, Zermatt Tourism in Switzerland hosted the Matterhorn European Chinese Ski and Snowboard Competition, promoting winter sports among visiting Chinese groups. Hundreds of enthusiasts took part.

Zermatt, which is close to the Matterhorn, a landmark peak, has round-the-year skiing and 360 kilometers of pistes, said Suzi Steiger, ski product marketing manager at Zermatt Tourism.

It has been active in the Chinese market for more than 10 years and has seen a significant rise in skiers from the nation in the past five years.

"The fact that Beijing is the venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics is also a major reason Chinese are so enthusiastic about winter sports. It's a development we can clearly see," she added.

Few Chinese had previously demonstrated their limited skiing prowess to foreigners on Alpine slopes, so catering to their specific needs is one focus for European destinations.

Switzerland Tourism has innovated in many different ways to offer more convenience to Chinese guests in winter, including direct flights to Zurich from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and the availability of the Swiss Travel Pass - a ticket that offers travel throughout the country.

As Chinese are mostly beginners, or do not ski at all, the organization has made more efforts to increase nonsporting winter activities.

Batiste Pilet, promotions manager for China at Switzerland Tourism, said, "Switzerland now offers Chinese-speaking ski instructors in 13 resorts and 'First Ski Experience' one-stop-shop offers at 19 resorts, providing ski passes, ski rentals and ski instructors."

"First Ski Experience" was initially designed to meet Chinese skiers' specific needs. As a result, hotels in Alpine regions have become more flexible on bookings of less than one week.

Wolfgang Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, said destinations should not try to change their customers, but alter what they offer.

"For instance, you can have a nice experience with snowshoe-walking, which requires no special skills and can be done for a certain amount of time," he said.

"Putting Chinese beginners together with European children in the beginners' class on an 'idiot's slope' will not attract Chinese. Destinations should also emphasize the clear, fresh, healthy air and night skies full of stars," he added.

Li Cong, founder of the travel agency Mountaineer in Germany, which helps Chinese skiers arrange trips to Europe, said China's successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics has given unprecedented impetus to the nation's winter sports industry.

An increasing number of independent ski travellers from China have visited over the past three years, but Li said the challenge is whether this interest will be sustained beyond the enthusiasm created by the Winter Olympics.


Innsbruck, capital of Tyrol, hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976.Provided To China Daily



Skiers enjoy the slopes at Zell am See in Austria.Provided To China Daily

(China Daily Global 05/03/2019 page1)

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