Why you should care
China’s ramping up its winter sports game — but it can’t expect all those skiers to stay on Chinese slopes.
Four years out and parts of the legacy of the 2022 Winter Olympics are already set in stone. Beijing will be the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games, and — as the first Winter Olympics to rely solely on artificial snow — it’ll lay the groundwork for other potential host cities that don’t receive natural snowfall to host the winter competitions.
In preparation, China is ramping up its skating infrastructure with plans to build 600 new skating rinks. And on a roadmap that will transform the country’s winter sports industry into a $144.5 billion market by 2025, Beijing plans for its skiers and snowboarders are even more ambitious. As part of its 2016-2020 National Fitness Plan:
China aims to develop 300 million new winter sports enthusiasts before the 2022 Olympic Games.
That means increasing China’s current crop of 12.1 million skiers and snowboarders to 120 million — there are currently only 130 million skiers in the whole world — over the next five years. But that doesn’t mean those skiers will stay in China. Even though its slope-going population is set to explode on the nation’s ski resorts, China faces a perpetual struggle to keep its skiers and snowboarders on domestic slopes.
Therein lies Beijing 2022’s most promising far-reaching legacy: China’s push to develop its winter sports industry is a potential golden ticket for foreign resorts.
Poor quality, a lack of supporting infrastructure and bad service are some of the issues sending China’s skiers overseas. Only 145 of China’s 703 resorts have aerial ski lifts. As a result, 18 percent of the 3,300-plus Chinese skiers questioned for a 2017 survey by Club Med and TripAdvisor said they traveled abroad to ski.
Beautiful scenery, great runs and plenty of Chinese food draw Mike Yin and his family to Niseko, Japan’s most popular ski resort. The Yins have visited resorts in China, but Niseko offers much more, including longer and more challenging pistes. The infrastructure around the resort also makes for more enjoyable après-ski. Chinese resorts remain largely underdeveloped in terms of accommodation and restaurants, Yin says. “Also, you don’t have to worry about jet lag [in Japan],” he adds.
Yin and his family aren’t alone. According to the 2017 China Ski Industry White Book, Japanese resorts account for 50 percent of China’s outbound winter sports tourists. Europe and North America trail with a 20 and 18 percent share, respectively. Resorts in all three regions have already laid the groundwork when it comes to attracting the expected boom in Chinese skiers and snowboarders. Almost all of the major European resorts have Chinese-language websites and an increasing number are offering Mandarin-speaking ski instructors. In 2017, Zermatt — one of Switzerland’s best-known resorts — employed a Beijing-based representative to attract wealthy Chinese skiers.
If even a tiny fraction of this new cohort of Chinese skiers and snowboarders follows that passion abroad, it will have enormous ramifications for winter sports markets around the globe. Over the past decade, the general upward trend in Chinese outbound spending has reshaped the tourism industry, from luxury goods markets in Europe to beach resorts catering to Chinese travelers in Southeast Asia. “Over 200 million outbound trips will be contributed by Chinese tourists in 2020,” says a spokesman for Chinese travel company Ctrip. “Chinese outbound travelers will be beneficial to all travel-related sectors. The same goes for winter sport tourism.”
A 2018 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, by independent consultant Laurent Vanat, notes how China’s growth is creating opportunities for the industry, citing government support as the main reason for growth. “At this stage, the market potential mostly remains untapped,” Vanat says.
With profit poised to go through the roof, resorts from Switzerland to Vancouver are likely to do what they can to tap into the growing popularity of winter sports in China. And thanks to the sheer size of the new market, even those that don’t make conscious efforts to tap into its potential are still likely to benefit.