Apart from skating, China has historically not been as successful in the Winter Olympics as it usually is in the Summer Games. Therefore, many people were skeptical when, as part of China’s bid to host the 2022 Games, President Xi Jinping pledged that the event would encourage 300 million Chinese people to engage with winter sports. However, those numbers were realised. Vicky Zhang, events coordinator at the European Chamber, looks into what to expect from China’s winter sports industry now that the Beijing Games are over.
“Today, thanks to this ambition, China is a winter sport country. Over 300 million people are engaged in winter sports in about 2,000 ski resorts and ice rinks. This extraordinary achievement opens a new era for global winter sport. It will raise the global participation to new levels, benefitting the Chinese people as well as winter sport enthusiasts around the world.” A quote from the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach’s speech during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games Beijing 2022. The following 16 days of thrilling competition meant Beijing fulfilled its promise to the world to host a “simple, safe and splendid” Olympic Games.
The question is, now that the Winter Olympic Games have ended, will the buzz around ice and snow sports last in China? In cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, on 17th February 2022, Jilin University launched its China Ice and Snow Economic Development Index Report, which predicts the domestic winter sports industry will see a drastic rise. This means not just winter sports, but also ice and snow tourism, winter sports equipment, and winter sports culture, to name but a few. According to the report, in 2021, China’s ice and snow economy doubled compared to 2016 levels; in 2022, the momentum of strong and sustainable development is expected to continue, with the chain growth rate to exceed 30 per cent.
Besides the positive forecast, the report also pointed out the current unbalanced development of China’s ice and snow industry, especially in equipment manufacturing. At the launch of the report, lead author Professor Xin Benlu stated that no matter whether high-end equipment, field equipment or personal equipment, all are China’s weak points at the moment. He illustrated this by pointing out how in the majority of large ski resorts in China, more than 80 per cent of the high-end equipment on site will be imported from Europe. However, he said that though this is a problem currently, it is also an opportunity for the future.
In recent years, winter sports development has gradually entered a golden period, and the sports industry has played an increasingly important role in the overall pattern of China’s economy. Especially in the wake of the successful hosting of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, a new chapter has opened for the sports industry in the development of winter sports in China. Significantly, at this year’s legislative Two Sessions meetings in Beijing, many National People’s Congress representatives put forward suggestions to help develop China’s sports industry while ensuring the promotion of the national economy and people’s livelihood.
So, to return to the opening question, the answer is yes, the buzz will last in many ways in China’s ice and snow sports industry.
In 2005, when President Xi visited Huzhou in Zhejiang Province, he said “clear waters and green mountains are as good as mountains of gold and silver” to stress that the environmental governance and ecological restoration are as important as economic growth. Almost two decades later, President Xi again spoke about mountains of gold and silver, but this time saying “ice and snow are also golden mountains and silver mountains”, indicating China’s determination to continue developing the winter sports industry, even after the Olympic Games. But how to maintain people’s enthusiasm for winter sports in the ‘post-Olympic’ era? To answer that, the China Tourism Academy, the Data Centre of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, compiled the China Ice and Snow Tourism Development Report (2022).
According to the report, the Beijing Winter Olympics will incentivize 71.7 per cent of tourists to maintain or increase their consumption of ice and snow tourism, and 68.4 per cent of those surveyed expect such tourism to increase due to the influence of the Games. A special survey by the China Tourism Academy shows that 90.1 per cent of respondents have experienced some form of ice and snow tourism activities. In terms of frequency, 63.3 per cent participate in ice and snow tourism once or twice a year, and about a quarter have experienced it three or four times. High-frequency consumption is increasingly becoming the norm, as winter sports shift from “just to experience” to “have to experience” for more and more Chinese people.
The new pattern of ice and snow tourism has been shaped by the normalisation of epidemic prevention and control. The ‘three pillars’ of China’s ice and snow tourism industry are located in the northeast region, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and Xinjiang. By the end of the 14FYP period, the northeast ice and snow industry is expected to attract 300 million tourists, with large-scale consumption generating Chinese yuan (CNY) 500 billion. The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has a target of 100 million people enjoying ice and snow tourism with expenditure of CNY 250 billion. In Xinjiang, by 2025, it is estimated that there will be 100 million people engaged in ice and snow tourism and 200 billion in winter sports revenue.
Although the increases in per capita income in China is the main driving force for the rising domestic demand for winter sports, it is also inseparable from the external strategic opportunities the Beijing Winter Olympics have brought.
“It may have started with government policy and the Winter Olympics, but now people see skiing as an enjoyment and a means to socialise,” Chen Qian of Chinese consumer research firm Daxue Consulting said. Winter sports are attracting more and more young people to try it out for the first time, especially since popular Team China athletes Eileen Gu and Yiming Su won gold medals at the Games. No matter whether it is an Eileen Gu-related trend, or purely curiosity and passion, there is no doubt that more and more Chinese are engaging with winter sports and that China will continue to invest in the industry as a result.
- Zhang Wenhan, The ‘China Ice and Snow Economic Development Index Report’ is released, predicting that the ice and snow economy will experience explosive growth in the post-Winter Olympics era, Jilin University, 18th February 2022, viewed 8th March 2022, <https://news.jlu.edu.cn/info/1211/55229.htm>
- China Ice and Snow Tourism Development Report (2022): “300 Million People Going on Ice and Snow” From Vision to Reality, 6th January 2022, viewed 8th March 2022, <http://www.ctaweb.org.cn/cta/gzdt/202201/0e0ee233eeb740f2bcd10d3936466a7a.shtml>
- Zhang Xiaoke, Looking at development through data – the Winter Olympics boosts the ice and snow industry into the fast lane, General Administration of Sport, 3rd March 2022, viewed 8th March 2022, <https://www.sport.gov.cn/n20001280/n20067608/n20067635/c24059862/content.html>
- Jess Ma, Will China’s Winter Olympics buzz last? Judging the success of the Beijing 2022 Games, South China Morning Post, 24th February 2022, viewed 8th March 2022, <https://www.scmp.com/sport/china/article/3168158/will-chinas-winter-olympics-buzz-last-judging-success-beijing-2022>