According to “China Ice and Snow Tourism Development Report 2018” released by China Tourism Academy, Harbin ranks first in the “China Top 10 Ice and Snow Tourism Cities” and the 34th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is also one of “China's 10 Most Influential Ice and Snow Tourism Festivals & Events” in the 2018 snow season.
Natural ice and snow resources become a sign of NE China, and the ice and snow economy is considered as one way to promote China's northeast revitalization.
However, with the Winter Olympics 2022 getting closer, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has begun to develop ice and snow tourism, and so has the northwest and south China. Is it a challenge for provinces in NE China to upgrade its winter tourism? Or is it a chance to transform the ecological advantage into an economic advantage?
“Warm winter” for Harbin
Every winter, ice wonders are exhibited in Harbin's Ice and Snow World, which is an ice sculpture theme park situated on the north bank of the Songhua River. This is Harbin's magical performance.
The magician team consisting of ice pickers, ice landscape designers and construction workers built the 20th Harbin Ice and Snow World in 15 days. Consuming over 330,000 cubic meters of ice and snow, the theme park built up a shining ice and light wonderland.
In the winter from 2018 to 2019, the probability of El Niño reaches 75% to 80%, and the intensity of winter monsoon in East Asia is weak. "Warm winter" becomes a challenge for the large-scale ice sculptures in Ice and Snow World. However, the warm weather brought more guests.
The Ice and Snow World was not profitable for fourteen years until the 15th session.
Now, it is an epitome of the development of ice and snow tourism in NE China that turns losses into profits.
After nearly 20 years' accumulation, Harbin has built an ice and snow tourism brand with the upcoming tourism golden era.
Enhance the regulation
Snow Town, a well-known tourist hot spot in the southernmost part of the Heilongjiang Province in NE China, had become embroiled in a reputation crisis after lots of tourists experienced swindle during their trips in the past years.
The negative impact of brand crises still exists today. When some tourists see the ticket price of 330 yuan (49 U.S. dollars) in the Ice and Snow World, they will question: is it another “Snow Town?"
Although "the greedy Snow Town" damaged the reputation of winter tourism, to some extent, it also pushed NE China to pay unprecedented attention to the tourism market regulation.
This year, the price in the grocery stores in Ice and Snow World theme park is the same as that in the city: five yuan (0.75 U.S dollars) for instant noodles and one yuan (0.15 U.S. dollars) for a bottle of water.
In 2018, the local government of Heilongjiang Province issued the notice on strengthening the regulation of the winter tourism market and optimizing the tourism service. It has made great efforts to rectify the tourism market, and initially established a market supervision mechanism among the three provinces of NE China. Local tourist complaints hotlines were merged into the Mayor's hotline to achieve a unified regulation.
Strengthening market regulation is not just a "stress response" to public opinion. NE China's ice and snow economy, which has already stood on a high level, is facing new competition. At present, more than 30 provinces and cities in China have launched ice and snow tourism projects.
Research from China Tourism Academy shows that northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region have become new growth zones of winter tourism. Altay Prefecture in Xinjiang is developing rapidly, playing a leading role in high-end tourism consumption market.
There are also indoor ice and snow theme complexes in cities of South China, where it rarely snows in winter; and ski resorts have also been built in Xiling Snow Mountain in southwest China's Sichuan Province and Shennongjia in central China's Hubei Province.
What's the highlight?
The “China Ice and Snow Tourism Development Report 2018” describes a problem today. Popular destinations gather a majority of the tourists while other ice and snow scenic spots are hardly heard of. It is now necessary to combine local cultural advantages with ice and snow tourism as the selling point.
NE China is covered with snow every winter, truly heavy snow, which makes it different from the south of China.
Each city also has its own resources and cultural advantages. Jilin Province has unique natural scenery of volcanic springs, rime ice, and fishing and hunting culture from Korean customs. Heilongjiang Province is famous for its Russian customs, snowy forest scenery, and Harbin ice and snow theme park.
Affected by climate, Liaoning Province though has a disadvantage in snow resources than the other two, there are many hot springs, and its coastal cities are perfect destinations for leisure.
According to the report, the number of ice and snow tourists in China reached 197 million in the winter season in 2018, and the income was about 330 billion yuan (49 billion U.S. dollars), with growth by 16 percent and 22 percent respectively from the previous year.
In recent years, NE China area, along with Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, and other regions has tried to implement the tourist's exchange plan. Snow Express is one of the products launched by the tourism departments in Northeast China and railway departments.
At 8:30 a.m. on December 18, 2018, a Snow Express departed Shenzhen Station and began a 15-day long journey. This train is especially for tourists from Guangdong Province, Hong Kong SAR, and Macao SAR in South China, all the way to Harbin, going through Kaifeng, Shenyang, Changchun, and other historic and cultural cities.
Ice and snow tourism in NE China can achieve maximum benefits only through coordinated development and full release of its potential.