Editor’s note: Skiing is a middle class activity in the West, but in China it’s still very much an exclusive, luxury pastime. With the state hoping to take winter sport mainstream, luxury stakeholders are taking notice of the China market. The story was originally published on Jing Travel.
The rise of the independent traveler in China has in turn spurred demand a greater demand for similarly unique travel experiences. Such demand has led to increased popularity in travel experiences already popular in the West such as home stays, but also experiences that are uniquely Chinese like wedding photography tourism. One trend that is gaining in popularity is more in line with the former: winter sport tourism.
Given the relatively high cost of winter sport tourism, particularly skiing, it is by default a relatively exclusive and luxury experience considering the lower average income of China. Reportedly, China only boasts 10 million skiers out of a population of over 1.3 billion. Nonetheless, despite the relatively small portion of Chinese travelers capable of participating in this trend, a wide array of stakeholders, both in China and abroad, are hoping to cash in.
But promoting winter tourism isn’t just a goal of the private sector, the government has made it clear that winter tourism is a state goal as well. As part of the Xi Jinping’s nationalist-oriented goals of improving the global prestige of the Chinese nation, the Chinese government hopes to create 300 million winter sport enthusiasts in China.
Much of this is associated with the Chinese government’s success in securing the 2022 Winter Olympics for Beijing and the popularity and success the country’s regional rivals like Japan and South Korea have had in this regard. 2018’s Winter Olympic Games will be held in Pyeongchang South Korea and Japan has hosted the winter games in 1972 and 1998.
The biggest recent development project announcement comes Jilin Province in Northeast China. The province of course is no stranger to skiing and winter sport tourism and its geography makes it one of the areas in China with the most potential for such tourism. Resort areas in Jilin include Lake Songhua and Chang Baishan. The Fosun-owned, French firm Clubmed even has its own winter resort at Beidahu, which has proved a lucrative part of its global comeback efforts.
The newest development efforts will be spurred by the Baishan City municipal government in the south of Jilin Province. The city has lofty goals of building “China’s first world-class ski resort complex.” The city is already the center of numerous ski resorts but hopes to build the city into a global attraction. Given the difficulty of acquiring visas to travel to China for Western or other Asian tourists, this seems unlikely. But shoring up the city’s position as a major winter sport tourism within China is certainly doable, and local access to hot springs and other natural attractions certainly doesn’t hurt.
The city hopes that in the next three years the city will boast more than 20 resorts and attract 3 million tourists annually. The expansion of transportation infrastructure, both in the form of highways and airports, is another key part of the plan.
Of course, for luxury-oriented Chinese tourists, even a high-quality winter getaway in China may not meet the standards and expectations associated with winter sport tourism globally. Much like other luxury tourism activities and destinations, success in attracting Chinese tourists rests in maintaining an air of exclusivity. This sometimes means actively not marketing to Chinese tourists. Australia, Japan, and the United States have all been able to attract small numbers of Chinese skiers to some of the world’s best slopes.
Enthusiasm for winter sport in China isn’t just a potential boon for destinations. Western ski-wear brands like Moncler have already recognized the importance of the China market. Even if China doesn’t produce 300 million skiers, an awareness of the winter sport lifestyle may still prove lucrative.
Still, classic Western winter sports destinations from Switzerland to Aspen have a long way to go to fully capitalize on Chinese travel. Fortunately, South Korea’s winter games, and especially Beijing’s, will go a long way in promoting these locations as options for Chinese skiers with little or no promotional work on the part of destinations. While global skiing destinations likely will struggle to compete with Chinese offerings in Jilin Province or Heilongjiang Province for middle class travelers, for China’s most wealthy a “classic” luxury skiing experience in France or Norway will likely have more traction.