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Winter tourism bookings boom in Changchun

By Yan Dongjie and Liu Mingtai | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-18 21:06

Ski enthusiasts practice at Tianding Mountain Ski Resort in Changchun, Northeast China's Jilin province, on Jan 25, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

While Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, has been the country's most popular destination for ice and snow tourism this winter, neighboring Jilin province has also welcomed more tourists and seen revenue from tourism grow.

As the Spring Festival holiday approached, Changchun, Jilin's provincial capital, saw holiday bookings surge.

More than two weeks before the start of the holiday, online travel platform Trip.com said hotel bookings were up more than 1,000 percent compared to the same period last year, and ticket bookings were up 727 percent.

According to data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Jilin received more than 6 million domestic tourists during the New Year holiday period in January, over four times as many than during the same holiday period a year earlier, while tourism revenue was more than six times higher at 5.3 billion yuan ($737 million). Growth rates for both were well above the national average and better than those seen in other northeastern provinces.

On Feb 4, five days before Spring Festival, Zhang Renzhe and his family from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, arrived at the Tian Ding Mountain Tourist Resort on the eastern outskirts of Changchun, where they stayed in a farmhouse with a traditional kang — a heated brick bed — and enjoyed their first northern-style Spring Festival.

"The most anticipated part of the trip was the Lunar New Year's Eve fireworks show and the pig slaughtering feast," Zhang said. "When I inquired over the phone, the resort said we could have an authentic northeastern pig slaughtering feast in the courtyard, set off firecrackers, build snowmen — my children were very excited when they heard this, so we immediately booked our trip."

The family of six rented a farmhouse for a week during the holiday.

Cai Huiyu, a spokeswoman for the resort, said that in order to ensure the long-term development of the tourism industry, Changchun's city government had collaborated with local businesses in recent years to make long-term plans for the development of ice and snow attractions, ski resorts, ecological parks, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, entertainment venues, supporting infrastructure such as airports and roads, and annual events like aviation shows and theme park activities.

"For the sake of economic development, the people of our hometown are united," she said. "During the New Year holiday, the number of tourists was so large that the service staff couldn't keep up.

"All the office employees of our company voluntarily came to the restaurant in the morning to help out. It was quite impressive to see 'waiters' in suits carrying dishes and washing dishes everywhere. I believe this sincerity will also impress the tourists."

Jilin Provincial Construction Group began building the tourism project, which includes Ice and Snow New World and ski resorts, in 2019 and they have gone on to become must-visit destinations for tourists.

Tourists from southern provinces visiting the northeast tend to choose Changchun as their destination or transfer point, and many deposit their luggage at Ice and Snow New World's reception hall.

"The admission fee for Ice and Snow New World used to be 298 yuan," Cai said. "Now, for the convenience of tourists, it has been adjusted to a unified discounted price of 150 yuan, and students pay 50 yuan."

From Feb 11 to Thursday, 141,000 visitors were received — an average of more than 28,000 a day.

At the entrance, the first large ice sculpture to catch the eye is of Shanhaiguan — the place where the Great Wall meets the Pacific Ocean — symbolizing the saying that "when crossing Shanhaiguan, you arrive in the northeast".

This year, the Changchun Ice and Snow Exhibition has a Belt and Road Initiative theme, with a number of large sculptures, including one depicting the Silk Road.

"Last year happened to be the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative," Cai said. "Choosing this theme also embodies our heartfelt wishes for the country's development and the international development of Changchun."

A total of 428,000 cubic meters of ice were used in the 156 hectare ice and snow theme park, most of which was taken from rivers and lakes such as Tianding River and Jinhu Lake. More than 70,000 cubic meters was stored in an ice cellar the previous winter.

"Usually, in December, the lakes in Changchun are not completely frozen," Cai said. "In order to open the park earlier to welcome tourists, the craftsmen first carve the ice stored in the ice cellar from the previous year. When these ice sculptures are ready, they can then start collecting ice from the naturally frozen rivers and lakes."

Sculptures at Ice and Snow New World include everything for the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac to miniature buildings and historical figures. Visitors are amazed by the skill of the ice and snow sculptors, many of whom trained as construction workers.

"In the northeast, because of the low temperatures in autumn and winter, construction sites shut down," she said. "In the past, construction workers had no work in the winter. Now, after training, they can become ice and snow construction craftsmen, or they can also help out in restaurants, ski resorts and so on, significantly increasing their family's annual income."

At Ice and Snow New World, there are over 300 guides in the park each day. The most popular attraction is a 1.26-kilometer-long snow slide, which takes about 100 seconds to traverse. The park opens at 10 am daily, and visitors queue up beside the slide. During peak hours in the afternoon, the wait can be as long as two hours. A 512-meter-long ice slide, which set a world record, is also very popular.

"Waiting for two hours in -20 C temperatures is definitely frustrating," Cai said. "The park has prepared ginger syrup and hawthorn water, and arranged roaming performances and cute pet interactions for waiting visitors, turning the waiting time into entertainment. So far, there have been no serious conflicts among waiting visitors."

At the 2024 China Ice and Snow Tourism Development Forum in January, Changchun was recognized as one of China's Top 10 cities for ice and snow tourism, and its Ice and Snow Festival as one of the 10 best such festivals.

Cai said Jilin had benefited from the three-dimensional development of the ice and snow industry.

The new attractions developed in the province last year included Changchun Zoo's Journey to the West theme park, the Yanbian Korean Folk Village, the Songhua River Upper Reaches project in Baishan, immersive tourism developments in Renxingli, Siping, and Longxingli, Tonghua, and Changbai Mountain Yunding Snow Village.

Han Junhong contributed to this story.

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