Since temperatures dropped late last year, Harbin, capital of China’s northernmost Heilongjiang Province, has gained unprecedented national prominence as a preferred destination for tourism trips during the winter. With its picturesque landscape of snow and ice, the hospitality of local people and the variety of cuisines, Harbin has welcomed millions of visitors this winter, especially from the southern regions of the country where it is rare to see snow.

In the three days of the New Year holiday alone (from December 30, 2023 to January 1), Harbin received more than 3 million visitors, generating tourism revenue of 5.91 billion yuan (US$831 million). Both the number of tourists and the volume of tourism revenue surpassed 2019 figures, reaching a historic peak.

This phenomenal tourism boom in Harbin has inspired other regions to come up with innovative ideas to boost their own tourism sectors. Tourism departments in various regions, in addition to vying for visitors to always improve their attractions, products and services, are also interacting on social media, helping to promote each other’s tourist attractions and resources. These efforts have given a strong boost to tourism across the country, and this is likely to continue throughout 2024, according to Zhang Yiqun, head of the Jilin Provincial Institute of Financial Science.

More than luck – To some, Harbin’s surge in popularity may seem sudden, but its success is no mere stroke of luck. The city has been working for years to take advantage of its winter resources and waiting for the opportunity to shine as it ended up happening this season.

With the growing popularity of winter sports across the country, especially after the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Harbin has upgraded its facilities to offer more options for tourists to have fun skiing and skating.

Furthermore, local tourism authorities have been paying close attention to the feedback offered by visitors, making quick adjustments based on it. When faced with suggestions or dissatisfaction, they have demonstrated sincerity in solving problems. For example, the World of Ice and Snow, a city destination famous for its ice sculptures and winter entertainment facilities, saw a large influx of visitors on its opening day on December 18, 2023. However , after standing in line for hours at attractions such as the ferris wheel and the large ice slide, many visitors could no longer bear the cold and asked for their ticket money back. The following day, the World of Ice and Snow released a letter of apology and offered solutions, such as increasing the number of team members to better organize people in line, and extending hours of operation and increasing the number of activities to Don’t concentrate visitors so much on a few.

“We seek empathy with tourists, paying close attention to their feedback on our social media posts,” He Jing, director of the Department of Culture and Tourism of Heilongjiang Province, told China Media Group. “Whenever tourists point out areas that can be improved, we act quickly to adjust their experience.”

Shanghai was another standout tourist destination for the 2024 New Year holiday. Rather than offering the icy splendor of Harbin, the cosmopolitan city in the east of the country has attracted tourists with its cultural heritage and modernity.

The hit TV series Blossoms Shanghai, broadcast from December 27, 2023 to January 9, has given additional boost to the city’s tourism sector. Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, the 30-episode program is set in 1990s Shanghai and tells the story of a young man’s journey, rising from his humble beginnings to becoming a successful businessman. over 10 years. It was the era in which Shanghai became a crucial center of foreign trade and finance, riding the wave of China’s reform and opening up that began in late 1978. The TV series recreated the streets, buildings, cuisine and dialect very well. of the megacity, inspiring many viewers to visit the city to experience the Shanghai vibe in person.

According to Chinese ticket platform, on January 5th the volume of searches for Shanghai as a travel destination had increased by more than 20% compared to the previous month, with reservations for individuals and groups growing respectively by 75% and 30%. December saw with high anticipation the opening of the Zootopia attraction at Shanghai Disneyland, based on Disney’s 2016 animated film of the same name, and it was another major attraction for tourists from across the country and abroad. Disneyland has been launching Chinese New Year-themed activities to attract even more visitors during China’s most important holiday, and they extended from February 10 to 17 this year.

Shanghai has attached importance to the development of tourism. According to its tourism development plan for the period 2021-25, the city aims to become a world-famous high-quality tourism destination around 2025. “It is also focusing on positioning itself as the first choice for tourists, such as destination city, a hub open to international tourism, a gateway to the Asia-Pacific region attracting tourism investments and as a metropolitan city with the most current digital developments,” said Fang Shizhong, director of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture and Tourism.

The World of Ice and Snow from Harbin, northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, on January 9. (Reproduction/China Today)

Promotion madness – Tourism authorities across the country are making every effort to innovate to attract tourists and ensure they have a wonderful experience. And some of these innovations surprised visitors. For example, the tourism bureau of Luoyang, central China’s Henan Province, had actors dressed as ancient guards in armor to welcome travelers at the local high-speed train station. As visitors pass through the station exit, these “guards” use the language of ancient China to loudly greet them with phrases such as “Luoyang welcomes His Majesty’s return.”

Luoyang has taken advantage of its characteristic advantages as a tourism option, as it is an ancient city with more than 4 thousand years of history and having been the capital of 13 Chinese dynasties. One of the services that most attracts tourists, especially young people, is renting a hanfu, the traditional Han Chinese style of clothing from centuries ago, which has been revived in recent years. Posing for photos wearing hanfu at historical sites in Luoyang and posting them on social media has become a must for many travelers.

Several cities are taking advantage of the popularity of neighboring cities to promote themselves as destinations. “It only takes one hour by train from Erbin (an affectionate term for Harbin, coined by its own young people on the internet) to reach Qiqihar,” Liu Chunfeng announced on social media on January 6. Liu, who is the head of the culture, radio, film, TV and tourism bureau of Qiqihar, also in Heilongjiang, appeared on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, to express his warm welcome to potential visitors from the rest of the country. “After getting off the train, you can see herons (China’s revered red-crowned crane), eat barbecue and soak in the hot springs.

Watching herons in the snow is something that is only possible here in Qiqihar,” said Liu. Other interactions in the sector, between tourism authorities in different regions, as well as between other people, are becoming increasingly common on social media. Local governments are joining in, calling on their own and their neighbors’ residents to visit and enjoy each other’s fun and hospitality. Film and TV personalities and influencers are being invited to promote attractions in their hometowns. Shen Han, a tourism professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, said celebrities have the power to attract visitors among their online followers. “A celebrity’s own fame and charm can improve consumers’ attitudes toward local areas,” she told news portal Tide News, based in Zhejiang Province.

Sustainable growth –“Consumption is an important driving force for economic development, and tourism is one of the main areas for consumption growth. Therefore, governments at all levels are likely to pay greater attention to tourism in 2024 than in previous years,” said Bao Jigang, professor of tourism and director of the Center for Tourism and Planning Research at Sun Yat-sen University (Sun Yat -sen University, SYSU) in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, told Beijing Review.

Despite all the methods to attract attention and attract tourists, the most important prerequisite for tourism development is to have mature products, infrastructure and supporting services, said Shen. “It is also very important to focus on consumers and their needs. The basis for this is establishing effective and timely communication between tourism departments and tourists. Harbin’s response to the World of Ice and Snow ticket refund request case is the best example. The rapid improvement of its products and services has won the hearts of travelers,” she added.

Furthermore, Bao suggested that with the growth of tourism, the country should pay attention to reducing the sector’s carbon emissions. revealed that in the first half of 2023 the world produced an average of 27 million tons of carbon emissions per day, of which 11% came from the tourism sector. Emissions from the hotel sector accounted for 60% of the total carbon produced by tourism.

According to an incomplete statistic collected by Peng Qing, a professor at SYSU’s School of Tourism Management, in 2022, the number of lodging facilities in China was 482,603, with 18,164,158 guest rooms. Bao said the energy consumption of air conditioning systems in these rooms is one of the biggest reasons this sector’s carbon footprint is so large.

“Conserving energy requires not only reducing the use of disposable items, but reducing air conditioning consumption to reduce carbon emissions. Electricity consumption can be reduced through the application of energy-saving technologies,” concluded Bao.

This article was originally published in the 47th edition of China Hoje magazine. Join the China Today Community for free and access the full content.


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