Although it barely is twenty years old, the Chinese winter sports industry is one of the fastest growing in the world, with a market size expected to reach over 800 billion Yuan by the Beijing Winter Olympics of 2022, and realize its target of 1 trillion Yuan by 2025. This trend can be not only be observed from the World Winter Sports Expo in Beijing which in 2019 and 2020 gathered more than 600 domestic and foreign ice and snow enterprises, but also in the ever-growing interest in winter sports in China.
This interest is supported by a government-led development plan spanning over a decade aiming to promote the practice of winter sports among the Chinese population and expand the infrastructure in that area in the hope to involve 300 million new consumers to the joys of ice and snow sports by 2025. Not without any challenges, especially within the context of a global pandemic, this ambitious project represents a great opportunity for local and foreign winter sports industry professionals and investors alike.
Source: Beijing Review. China’s has an ambitious plan to grow its ice and snow industry.
China plans on drastically develop its winter sports industry
The government promotes and subsidies the growth of the industry
The Winter Sports Development Plan (2016-205) is a long-term plan from the Chinese government aiming to increase the Chinese population’s interest in winter sports of all sorts in order to reach a projected goal of a 1 trillion Yuan industry from 300 million of regular participants by 2025. In a way, the 2022 Winter Olympics are more regarded as a means to fulfill that ambition rather than a goal in itself. An ambition that has already substantially paid off: the number of companies engaged in winter sports industry in China increased to 4,650 in 2020 from 1,950 in 2015.
By 2022, China is expected to have 650 skating venues, including 500 newly built, and the number of ski resorts should reach 800, almost all of them having been built in the last 20 years. Ski tracks will measure 3,500 kilometers and amount to 100 million square meters.
However, the plan does not focus solely on infrastructure: it also encompasses a vast education program in order to familiarize younger generations to winter sports in China. Primary and middle schools in Northern provinces are required to incorporate winter sports into the curriculum of physical education, while southern schools are encouraged to cooperate with professional clubs to set up winter sport classes. The number of winter sports schools in China should amount to 5,000 by 2025. The consequences of the plan are already there, with the Chinese Ice and Snow equipment industry sporting an average annual growth rate of more than 20%.
Data source: 2019 China Ski Industry White Book. The Chinese ski market has soared, supported by government investments and a growing interest from the population.
Ice skating: one of the markets with the most potential
Alongside skiing in China, ice skating is one of the ice and snow markets that has grown the most in recent years thanks to the government’s development plan. China only had 21 indoor ice rinks in 2003, but the number increased to 59 by 2011 and soared to 188 at the end of 2016. For Beijing’s Winter Olympics in 2022, that number is expected to rise to 650 skating venues. Local administrations have followed the central government’s example in promoting the development of winter sports facilities, such as the Beijing Municipal Government that published a guideline stating that every district in the city should have a newly built indoor ice rink at least 1,800 square meters large by 2022. Industry insiders estimate that China has the market for 3,000 indoor ice rinks, which should take 20 to 25 years to realize after the 2022 Winter Olympics boom calms down.
Image: Xinhua. Just like its ski market, China’s ice-skating market is mostly composed of beginners.
The winter sports industry in China faces several challenges.
The industry must train newcomers and remain affordable for the middle class
However, this exponential growth has made several challenges appear for the development of winter sports in China, the main one being the lack of qualified coaches and sports management in a young industry facing a soaring demand. The other main issue faced by the popularization of winter sports in China is the price. China’s ice and snow industry is very similar to Europe’s in the 60’s: a beginner market with expensive prices, but today in a globalized market, wealthy snow enthusiasts can just go abroad to satisfy their winter sports needs.
Even though the Chinese middle class’ income has risen steadily over the last decades, winter sports remain a somewhat pricy hobby in China, which can be prohibitive for newcomers to get into it. If the price problem will eventually sort itself out as the industry matures, resorts get better equipment and the Chinese middle class keep getting richer, the shortage in trained personnel is a real challenge as newcomers should know how to actually practice winter sports to maintain a retention rate beyond a one-time touristic experience.
The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the industry
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe crippling the world’s economy, China was able to recover quickly from the first wave of infections. Regardless of its swift recovery, the Chinese economy was gravely impacted by the pandemic in all sectors. The winter sports industry was no exception, especially since China was in lockdown for the most part of the 2020 winter. The industry ground to a virtual halt with 774 ski resorts and 388 ice skating rinks facing mandatory shutdowns to contain the pandemic.
The Chinese government has rolled out a series of supportive policies in order to help businesses to recover and stimulate consumption. These policies include tax cuts, delay in social insurance payments and lower loan interest rates and a series of measures praised by the International Olympic Committee in a video address to the World Winter Sports (Beijing) Expo 2020.
Image: Snow Forecast. Even though it was not hit as hard as Europe’s, the pandemic took its toll on China’s ice and snow industry.
Foreign businesses and investors can contribute to the Chinese winter sports boom
These shortcomings of the Chinese ice and snow industry combined with its soaring growth represent a significant opportunity for foreign winter sports destinations. Japanese resorts are now the destination of choice for over half of China’s outbound winter sports tourists. This is followed by Europe and North America, which hold a 20 and 18 percent share of outbound winter sports tourists respectively. To make best of this opportunity, foreign resorts have invested in ways to appeal to Chinese tourists such as developing Chinese-language websites, and many are offering ski instructors who speak Mandarin.
China-based representatives are also being hired in a bid to stimulate increased traffic. In China, the booming winter sports market and the 2022 Winter Olympics hype have increased sales in winter sports related apparel, equipment, and machinery, a commercial opportunity that some foreign ice and snow brands such as Decathlon or Burton have already started to take advantage off. The surge in demand of qualified ski instructors also has created an opportunity for foreign coaches to involve themselves in China’s rising market and several initiatives have been launched to meet the ever-growing Chinese demand such as a joint project from the Chinese and Austrian government to train 1000 Chinese ski instructors.
A few takeaways about the Chinese winter sports industry
- The Chinese snow and ice industry is booming. Supported by governmental incentives and education programs, hype around the 2022 Winter Olympics and the ever-growing purchasing power of the Chinese middle class, the winter sports market in China has soared in only a couple of decades.
- The industry is still very young and quite similar to Europe’s in the 60’s: few resorts (proportionally to the population size), mostly beginner consumers and prices that are relatively high.
- Like many others, the industry has greatly suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic and is counting on the Chinese government’s help to recover. At the same time, the industry is facing a shortage of qualified instructors to train newcomers to winter sports, and bring beginner level enthusiasts to become advanced athletes..
- The Chinese ice and snow market has high potential for foreign businesses and investors willing to partake in the development of this burgeoning industry. Whether it is from abroad by developing services in foreign resorts for the new wave of Chinese snow enthusiasts or by directly investing in the mainland to sell directly in that growing market, there is no shortage of opportunities.
Author: Camille Gaujacq