International investors also saw potential in Chongli. VXL Group, a Malaysia-based international tourism real estate developer broke ground on the Genting Resort Secret Garden in Chongli in 2008. The resort, which opened in 2013, included a five-star hotel and 35 ski runs. Future plans call for 88 ski runs with a combined length of 70 kilometers, as well as developing conference facilities and year-round attractions.
Zhao Qiong from the VXL Group told NewsChina that when he first came to Chongli in 2013, “everything was isolated in this nowhere place.” The major attraction, he said, was the potential market from Beijing, but despite allocating huge sums to the marketing budget, business remained stagnant. “We felt desperate at that time, and we realized it was very difficult to have the 20 million people in Beijing learn about skiing, which was quite new to them,” acknowledged Zhao.
But there have been real changes since 2015. According to the China Ski Industry White Paper released in early 2017, in 2010, there were 298 ski resorts in China, but this figure increased to 568 in 2015, and by 2016, there were 646. The number of people taking part in ski activities increased from 125 million in 2015 to 151 million in 2016.
Wu Bin, CEO of the Carving Ski Group and chief editor of the White Paper, told NewsChina that the recent rapid development of China’s ski industry has benefited both from rapid economic development and favorable government policies.
“Developing the ski industry depends on economic growth. According to international statistics, when GDP per capita reaches US$8,000, the tourism sector will see rapid development,” Wu said. It was in 2015 that average GDP per capita in the Chinese mainland amounted to that level, and in the same year, Beijing and Zhang-jiakou won the bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Genting Resort Secret Garden was chosen as the site of the 2022 Winter Olympics freestyle and snowboard events. It soon drew more visitors, with an increase of over 60 percent in the ski season from 2015 to 2016 than in the previous year. Right now, the resort can accommodate more than 200,000 guests in a single winter season, and as guests are quite high-spenders, income has increased significantly, Zhao said. On November 11, the first day of the 2017-18 season, more than 2,500 skiers came to the Genting Resort, up 50 percent year-on-year.
Other properties like Wanlong Ski Resort are also eyeing better prospects. The ski area in Wanlong expanded from 8,800 square meters to 17,000 square meters and the number of visitors increased by 2.5 times from 2015 to 2016. In December 2016, Fulong Group opened a high-end resort and still more other ski areas are under construction.
The development of the ski industry in Chongli is a microcosm of the snow economy in China as well. According to the White Paper, over 60 percent of new resorts are in north or northwestern China. China’s sports governing body, the General Administration of Sport, released in late 2016 the Development Plan of Snow Sports (2016-2025), which stated that by 2020, the snow industry aims to reach the scale of 600 billion yuan (US$3.9b), and by 2050, it will further increase to 1,000 billion yuan (US$ 6.5b).