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Winter Tourism Drives Economy
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Ski resorts are converting their resources into a niche market, drawing millions of visitors during the winter months.


The "ice and snow economy" is gaining momentum in the northern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.



Heilongjiang was the first province in the country to see the potential of developing its resources as a major winter tourist attraction.


Its winter lasts for about four months with heavy snowfalls throughout the period.


It has more than 70 ski resorts and 150 ski slopes, accounting for more than 60 percent of the country's winter resort facilities.


Heilongjiang tourism department statistics show the province received more than 3.2 million visitors during last year's spring festival, gaining income of more than 2 billion yuan (US$250 million).


Tourism today is one of the key drivers of the province's economic growth.


Harbin, Heilongjiang's capital, is famous for its annul ice and snow extravaganzas.


The city's ice lantern shows, and ice and snow sculpture competitions are becoming world famous, attracting local and foreign visitors every year.


"We received more visitors from the United States, Russia, Germany, and the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong last year," said Bo Xiru, director of the tourism bureau.


"The province is playing a leading role in winter tourism in the country."


The sector has spurred the economic growth of other related industries in the province.


Harbin's hotel occupancy rate was more than 80 percent last year, the Heilongjiang Daily reported.


In cooperation with the city of Montreal, Canada, last year's snow sculpture exhibition in Harbin added a new dimension.


Two sculptures, "Crossing the Bering Strait" and "Niagara Falls," both reported to be 250 meters long and 28 meters high and involving more than 13,000 cubic meters of snow, will be entered in the Guinness World Record.


Jilin Province too is attracting its fair of tourists with its various winter sports.


And this year, Changchun, its capital, introduced an international ski competition Vasaloppet China, from Sweden. The event was held yesterday at the Jingyuetan Ski Resort.


Liaoning Province, with its geographic advantages, is promoting itself as the first stop in northeast China for enthusiasts of ice and snow sports.


The province spent millions of yuan in 2005 to build the Northeast Asia Ski Resort in the Shenyang National Forest Park.


Xinjiang recently kicked off its Silk Road Ice and Snow Festival, in a bid to grab a piece of the winter sports pie.


The industry is also providing other related work for its people. Once heavily reliant on stock breeding, some have now moved into the catering business.


There are now almost 30 ski resorts surrounding Urumqi, the capital, which can accommodate about 20,000 people a day.


Winter tourism earned Xinjiang 4.6 billion yuan (US$575 million) in 2005.


The warmer winters in Beijing are losing its appeal to the other resorts. Beginners find Beijing's short, flat slopes no longer thrilling.


By heading north to Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces, you can experience a totally different environment.


(China Daily January 3, 2007)

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