Riding the wave leading to the 2022 Winter Olympics, China’s booming winter sports industry is expected to transform ice and snow into white treasure for sound growth in the leisure and tourism sectors.

Even though still a novice in international winter sports, China is rapidly catching up with global powerhouses such as Canada, the United States, Russia and the Scandinavian countries. Ski resorts and skating rinks across the country had peak visitor flows over the New Year break, both in the freezing north-eastern provinces and the much warmer south.

The number of travellers heading to major winter tourism destinations during the three-day New Year holiday rose more than 150pc over last year, the online tourist service platform Lvmama said.

A report issued by Tencent and the internet consultancy Analysys last month estimated that tourism related to winter sports activities will generate 40 billion yuan (£4.5 billion) revenue in spending at venues and on accommodation, equipment sales and sightseeing by 2020, contributing to an overall target value of 600 billion yuan in the industry’s market.

The pursuit of a more dynamic lifestyle among urban Chinese will accelerate the shift of winter sports consumption towards healthy and fun experiences, experts say.

“A sustainable winter sports industry is based on consumer spending for experiences as a way of life instead of one-off consumption,” Lin Xianpeng, a sports industry professor with Beijing Sport University, said at a recent forum hosted by Tencent.

“The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics offer a golden opportunity to cultivate early adopters into long-term winter sports participants and consumers. Governmental departments and business operators should make the best of the Games by facilitating grassroots interest.”

In 2015, after Beijing won the right to host the 2022 Winter Games with Zhangjiakou in Hebei province as the co-host, the Chinese government unveiled a winter sports development plan to build a total of 650 skating rinks and 800 ski resorts by 2022, laying the foundation for 300 million people to get involved in winter sports to generate industry value of 1 trillion yuan by 2025.

The annual ski industry report said that at the end of 2016 China had 646 ski resorts in operation and 11.3 million people who ski at least once a year.

With revenue from direct participation not yet strong enough, the internet service provider Tencent has set its eyes on combining winter sports with entertainment and leisure to make a bigger pie. “The crossover between sports and all the other elements that attract a larger group of users will draw more attention,” said Chen Juhong, vice-president of Tencent.

After signing business partnerships with multiple winter sports organisations such as the National Hockey League and the International Skating Union, Tencent will customise a series of entertainment programmes based on elite competition and pop star presence to trigger a bigger ripple in and out of the sports sector.

“With the lack of facilities still impacting direct participation, providing a variety of winter-sport themed entertainment shows is an effective way to first connect the public to the industry and then transform some of them into participants,” said Zhao Guochen, general manager of Tencent Sports.

China will host 79 winter sports competitions by the end of the 2017-18 season, up from 55 three years ago, when very few of them were fully promoted and marketed. Tencent will leverage its resource of massive socialmedia app users and expertise in sports-pop crossovers to popularise winter sports in the build-up to the 2022 Games, said Mr Zhao.

Stimulated by the Olympics, the total revenue generated from sponsorship, broadcasting and fans’ spending of winter sports events is expected to reach 160 billion yuan by 2025, said the market consultancy Analysys.

Once the conversion of audience to participant begins, it is up to the local government and business operators to upgrade experiences at rinks, resorts and hotels to keep them on ice and snow for a lifetime.

“All major ski resorts overseas earn their reputation for service and experience while most of our resorts are still in the early stages of their development, counting on making revenues from affiliated real-estate business,” said Prof Lin.

“Local authorities should help venue operators ease financial pressure with preferential policies in land use and energy supply to allow them to focus more on scientific planning, service and staff training.”

The Analysys report says the country will have 40 winter sports towns by 2020, compared with 26 now. The number of tourists will grow 15pc a year to reach 340 million in the 2021-22 winter, from about 170 million last year, the China Tourism Academy predicted.

“Local planners and resort owners should carefully develop properties based on the capacity of natural resources and environment,” said Cao Jianwei, deputy chief of Chongli district in Zhangjiakou.

“Quality of service should always supersede quantity.”

This article was originally produced and published by China Daily. View the original article at www.chinadaily.com.cn