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Chinese interest in Europe's winter sport resorts gathering speed

By WANG MINGJIE in London | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-03-11 09:33

A skier descends the snowy slopes at Axamer Lizum near Innsbruck, Austria. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Growing trend

Christoph Eisinger, managing director of Ski Amade ski region near Salzburg, Austria said: "In the European alpine ski tourism industry, we've observed a rising influx of Chinese visitors lately. I'd describe them as trailblazers; they're generally experienced skiers who have already explored ski destinations outside China, such as Japan, and now seek to enrich their experiences in alpine resorts."

He explained that the travel preferences among Chinese visitors vary, depending on individual inclinations.

"Some seize the opportunity to blend skiing with city trips, while others aim to explore multiple ski resorts in one journey. Ultimately, they all seek additional experiences," Eisinger observed.

He attributes the allure of Europe, particularly the Alps, to the maturity and rich heritage of skiing culture.

Eisinger said. "As the number of skiers in China continues to grow and they further engage in the sport, the likelihood of enthusiasts seeking new experiences and destinations increases. This trend mirrors what we observe in other outdoor sports and from other countries. The globalization of travel further fuels this inclination."

Li Yitao, founder of Germany-based travel agency Mountaineer, which helps Chinese visitors ski in Europe, also observed there has been a notable increase in Chinese tourists opting for skiing in Europe, which aligns with the bustling ski resorts in Northeast China and Xinjiang during the winter season.

"Chinese tourists skiing in Europe typically possess skiing experience, with some starting to learn skiing upon arrival," Li said.

He emphasized that the availability of good infrastructure, magnificent scenery, and the opportunity to experience the classic European skiing lifestyle were all factors that attracted Chinese tourists to ski in Europe.

"These elements contribute to the appeal of European skiing destinations for Chinese tourists," he said.

Thomas Koehle, managing director of the Paznaun-Ischgl ski region in Austria, has noticed the increasing demand for skiing and winter activities in China since the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, with a recent uptick in guest arrivals and overnight stays from the Chinese market in the Austrian region of Tirol.

Koehle said the region of Paznaun-Ischgl ranks fifth in popularity, boasting nearly 1,000 overnight stays by the end of the 2022/23 winter season. And he said Paznaun-Ischgl had already matched its pre-COVID-19 numbers last year and anticipates positive results for the current winter season.

Acknowledging the significance of their Chinese guests, Koehle stated: "The region is keenly aware of its Chinese guests, especially given the growing winter enthusiasm among them."

He expressed optimism about the potential for the Chinese market and said he was looking forward to welcoming more guests in the future.

Currently, many Chinese skiers and snowboarders visiting European slopes opt to blend skiing with sightseeing, shopping, and other activities.

Alice Liang, from Guangzhou, exemplifies this trend. During the Chinese Lunar New Year, she embarked on a two-week holiday that included visits to Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, and Munich.

"I wanted to explore various parts of Europe, immersing myself in its history, architecture, and culture. Additionally, I was eager to experience the slopes of the Alps. Hence, I spent a day skiing at Stubai Valley outside Innsbruck," she explained.

To capitalize on this trend, the Innsbruck Tourism Board launched its SKI plus CITY Pass Stubai Innsbruck in 2019, which offers visitors a unique skiing and sightseeing experience on a single ticket. The pass connects 13 diverse ski areas in the Stubai Valley and Innsbruck region with 23 attractions in and around the city.

Monika Unterholzner, a local guide in Innsbruck, said: "We are seeing a growing number of Chinese visitors to Innsbruck. What's particularly appealing about skiing or snowboarding in Innsbruck is that they can enjoy the slopes during the day and enjoy a delightful dinner in the city after. Moreover, they have the option to explore museums the following day. I believe this unique offering in Innsbruck fits the preferences of Chinese visitors at this stage."

Winter in the Alps caters to Chinese visitors seeking varied experiences. This includes skiing, gourmet dining, cultural exploration through museums, and relaxation at luxurious spa facilities.

Emma Boutwell, the international market manager for the Oetztal Tourism Board, oversees tourism promotion in the region, including Soelden and Gurgl, highlighted Soelden is particularly popular amongst Chinese visitors.

"It offers attractions like 007 Elements, a James Bond museum atop the mountain, adjacent to Austria's highest awarded restaurant, the IceQ gourmet restaurant. Moreover, the Aqua Dome in the Oetztal Valley provides a unique wellness landscape along with a four-star hotel," she added.

The rising popularity of ski resorts in Switzerland among Chinese visitors reflects a growing trend within the Chinese snow sports community. 

Samuel Rosenast, head of communications and content at Destination Davos Klosters, emphasized the importance of capitalizing on the growing interest in skiing in China. He said: "The increasing popularity of skiing in China presents a significant opportunity not only for us but also for all destinations in Europe and North America. It is crucial for us to recognize this potential and make the necessary investments in the Chinese market. With the recognition of Davos through the World Economic Forum, we have an advantage when it comes to developing the market in China."

According to Daniela Chiani, the Greater China Director at Switzerland Tourism, winter tourism from China has experienced a remarkable 400 percent increase during the past decade, outpacing growth from other source markets.

However, Chiani pointed out that while more Chinese tourists are visiting Switzerland during the winter season, the number of Chinese skiers or snowboarders on Swiss slopes remains relatively low. Nevertheless, Chiani believes Switzerland has immense potential, which is why the winter campaign is a top priority for Switzerland Tourism.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in France, said: "As far as winter sports are concerned, the gold standard for many people is still to take holidays in long-established European resorts — it's a conspicuous consumption choice for many middle-class Chinese consumers."

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