In total, about 89 participants took part in the Digital China Talk. The program was moderated by business developer Madeleine Tang, and the speakers were China expert Hermann Winkler (CEO and founder of the Tyrolean consulting and service agency Snow-How China and co-founder of Snow51) and Thomas Faulhaber, Head of Business Development and partner at Zeevan GmbH, an e-business agency for the Chinese online market.
Officials in China say that preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are right on schedule. They are assuming that the Corona pandemic will be over in time for the Games and there will be no need for athletes or visitors to go into quarantine. Although China is not a traditional winter sports country, the government wants 300 million Chinese to take up winter sports by 2022. But how realistic is that? Hermann Winkler’s answer: “The first point to note is that the figure of 300 million relates to winter sports in general, which include ice hockey, ice skating, etc. as well as skiing and snowboarding. With regard to skiing alone, the situation can be quantified in terms of skier days. Austria, France and the USA, for example, had 50 to 55 million skier days per winter season before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic. Working on the assumption that China will become the world’s no. 1 skiing destination, we can expect to see something like 60 million skier days there. So in combination with the other winter sports, the total number of winter sports fans will be around the 300 million target set by the Chinese government.” In this context, Winkler pointed out that the authorities want the Chinese to have a positive first experience on the ski slopes, “but in fact, 99% of Chinese skiers have unfortunately had a very poor first experience. This is due on the one hand to their excessively optimistic expectations and on the other hand to the long distances to be traveled, inadequate ski instruction and a generally low level of skiing ability. We, too, want the first taste of skiing to be a positive experience for the Chinese. For this reason, together with our partner Snow51 in Shanghai, we are operating indoor ski facilities in several shopping malls, where the Chinese can learn to ski on artificial slopes. When the beginners are good enough, they can switch to the real slopes in the Chinese ski resorts.” The lack of competent ski instructors in China, however, is still a very big issue. In order to solve the problem, an innovative project was launched last year. Winkler explained: “Based on the Austrian training plan for ski instructors, a curriculum was developed that is exactly tailored to the Chinese situation. It is also our intention that these ski instructors should become effective ambassadors for Austria and thus for skiing vacations there.”
Winkler also said there is now a growing affluent middle class in urban China, who are focussing less on material status symbols like expensive cars and more on vacations and travel experiences with a difference. This has turned skiing into a status symbol for the Chinese. “It’s the new golf in China,” says Winkler.
Individual tourism on the rise
In this context, the China marketing specialist Thomas Faulhaber explained that the Chinese middle class is now a source of affluent individual tourists who are keen to take a skiing vacation in the Alps. “Individual tourists are quite different from the typical Chinese coach tourists who have so far flocked to the major cities of Europe. If you adapt to the needs of individual tourists from China, they are grateful and uncomplicated guests. It’s the little things the Chinese are used to in their own country that are so important – like an electric kettle in the room and mobile payment facilities. In general, the smartphone plays a very important role for the Chinese (e.g. for purchasing tickets via WeChat Pay.)” (WeChat was originally a chat service for smartphones that has grown in terms of functionality and is now indispensable to the Chinese.)