Economic Watch: Ice-and-snow frenzy heats up Lunar Chinese New Year

15 Feb 2024 11:47pm
People take pictures of an illuminated installation of a dragon at the Yu Garden during the fourth day of the Lunar New Year of the Dragon in Shanghai on February 13, 2024. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP)
People take pictures of an illuminated installation of a dragon at the Yu Garden during the fourth day of the Lunar New Year of the Dragon in Shanghai on February 13, 2024. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP)

SHENYANG, China - Li Yan, 32, who works in Shanghai, used to snap up a train ticket to his hometown, southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, as soon as the Spring Festival travel rush began.

However, Li decided to change his destination to northeast China during this year's holiday of Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year, which fell on Feb. 10, as the ice-and-snow tourism heated up across the country during this winter.

"Every year, the festival activities at my hometown are similar -- having Lunar New Year's Eve dinner with families, visiting relatives, and meeting friends, and then the holiday is over," Li said. "I have never seen ice sculptures or heavy snow before, so I choose to enjoy the holiday in a different way this year by taking my family to the northeast."

A report by Tuniu, a Chinese travel portal, showed that group tours to Harbin, capital of northeastern Heilongjiang Province, and Mohe, China's northernmost city, as well as Yabuli Ski Resort and Changbai Mountain, during the Spring Festival, had been almost not available by mid-December 2023, which were sold out about three weeks before the holiday in previous years.

Meanwhile, some niche destinations in northeast China, such as Hegang, Qitaihe, Yichun, Jixi, and Heihe, have also become emerging tourist cities during the Spring Festival, attracting a multitude of youngsters.

According to data from a major online travel agency, Tongcheng, among the popular destinations for railway travel during the festival travel season, Harbin climbed to the second place from the 16th in the same period in 2023. In terms of domestic airline service, the popularity of the route between Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, and Harbin surged 288 percent year on year, while the one between Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, and Harbin rose 110 percent.

Besides, major cities in northeast China, such as Changchun and Shenyang, also witnessed a significant increase in passenger flow during the holiday compared with the same period last year.

Public transport operators have made targeted adjustments in response to the new trend of this year's Spring Festival travel. The Shanghai Station launched more passenger trains to the northeast, adding more than 40,000 seats. Airlines have newly opened several routes linking east China's Shandong Province with the hotspots in the northeast, such as Shenyang, Dalian, Mudanjiang, and Yanji, and increased the flight frequency.

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According to the north branch of China Southern Airlines, the company enhanced the transport capacity of airline routes linking Shenyang and Shanghai, Hangzhou, as well as Guangzhou to meet demands and has adjusted some flights to wide-body aircraft.

Industry insiders believe that behind the boom in ice-and-snow tourism this winter is the continued strength of China's ice-and-snow industry in recent years. According to a legacy report for the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, from 2018 to 2020, the scale of fixed-asset investment projects in China's ice-and-snow tourism increased to nearly 900 billion yuan (about 126.7 billion U.S. dollars).

The three northeastern provinces are speeding up the layout of the ice and snow economy. Jilin aims to develop ice-and-snow and summer leisure eco-tourism into trillion-yuan-level industries by 2025. The output value of the ice-and-snow equipment manufacturing industry in Liaoning is expected to reach more than 5 billion yuan. A number of national and provincial ski resorts, as well as a group of internationally competitive ice and snow enterprises and well-known brands, will be established in Heilongjiang.

Cheng Chaogong, the chief researcher of the Tongcheng Research Institute, said that the ice-and-snow fever not only makes heading to northeast China for the Spring Festival holiday a new trend, bringing market benefits to the northeast, but also gives the outside world a new understanding of the region. If the locals can grasp the opportunity, it will inevitably turn the "traffic" into "profit" and promote the comprehensive development of the regional economy, Cheng added. - XINHUA