Winter sports is a new frontier for Chinese tourism. This development is strongly supported by the government, which has said it wants to create 300 million new winter sports enthusiasts by the time Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics in 2022. But so far, only a few international destinations are beginning to successfully attract this emerging market.
Dragon Trail Interactive talked to top skiing destinations in Europe and North America to learn more about how to catch the attention of Chinese tourists and help them get the international skiing experience they’re looking for.
Providing Chinese-language ski instruction can be a big draw for beginners. Since the 2013/2014 season, Switzerland Tourism has regularly invited Chinese ski instructors to train in Switzerland and then spend a season working at a Swiss ski resort. Switzerland now has 13 ski resorts that offer ski lessons in Chinese by request, and these are all listed on the Chinese-language section of Switzerland Tourism’s website.
Whistler Blackcomb, outside Vancouver, Canada, “hires instructors and staff that cover off many of the languages spoken in Whistler among our visitors, [and] Chinese is one of them. We do have some of our tour operator partners who would include Chinese speaking guides and drivers should someone want that sort of tour,” explains Shawna Lang, Director – Market Development at Tourism Whistler.
But for private ski schools, issues of visa-sponsorship for Chinese nationals can be a problem. Moreover, there is as yet no governing body for ski instruction in China, so Chinese ski instructors need to undergo training in Europe to become certified to teach there. Phillips says that in lieu of a Chinese-speaking instructor, many things can be communicated well through ski instructor demonstrations and body language, and that Chinese groups at Matterhorn Diamonds often bring their tour guide along with them for translation needs.
Apart from language barriers, there are also different cultural behaviors to be aware of. “They’re very keen to learn, very interested. But often unless you say to them to take a break, they will continue on, even if they become quite tired. We run workshops with the instructors on these cultural differences, and discuss the importance of ensuring the instructors offer breaks at frequent intervals, especially for beginners,” says Phillips. This contrasts strongly with the more intense Chinese approach to ski instruction mentioned in the recent Outside Online article.
Why travel abroad to ski?
Generally speaking, Chinese are not traveling to long-haul destinations just to ski. Firstly, they have an ever-expanding and improving number of facilities available domestically. And even if they are serious skiers who want to experience natural snow, more challenging runs and different slopes to the ones in China, South Korea and Japan are much closer.
Rather than focusing entirely on the ski slopes and facilities, marketing to potential Chinese visitors should include information on what other things there are to see and do in the area, including site seeing, local foods and other special experiences, such as hot springs.
The future of Chinese skiing
Although interest and participation in winter sports is starting to take off in China and should only grow in the next four years leading up to the Beijing Winter Olympics, a sudden surge in Chinese skiing in long-haul destinations like North America and Europe is very unlikely. However, getting a clear understanding of what Chinese tourists are looking to get out of an overseas skiing experience and laying the groundwork early will help a lot later on – Whistler has been researching the Chinese market since even before Canada received ADS status to allow the country to receive Chinese tourists back in 2009. And while the market is still small, Lang says: “We anticipate once Chinese skiers try skiing at home and feel comfortable, perhaps they will travel to Japan or Korea to try skiing, and then will be ready for North America – we [then] want Whistler to be top of mind.”
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