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Home Tourist Attraction How China’s ‘ice city’ Harbin became a major winter tourist attraction

How China’s ‘ice city’ Harbin became a major winter tourist attraction

by Staff

Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, December 31, 2023. /CFP

Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, December 31, 2023. /CFP

A view of the Harbin Ice-Snow World, December 31, 2023. /CFP

A view of the Harbin Ice-Snow World, December 31, 2023. /CFP

A view of the Harbin Ice-Snow World, December 31, 2023. /CFP

A view of the Harbin Ice-Snow World, December 31, 2023. /CFP

A view of the Harbin Ice-Snow World, December 31, 2023. /CFP

A view of the Harbin Ice-Snow World, December 31, 2023. /CFP

This winter, the city of Harbin has spared no effort to show sincerity and creativity in entertaining, if not spoiling, tourists from all over the world.

Currently, Chinese netizens have portrayed the city as a generous big brother who is doing everything possible to entertain guests coming from afar with its unique charms and creative ideas.

Harbin has long been a major tourist attraction in winter, and it has garnered more attention this winter. It ranked fifth among the most popular cities for the 2024 New Year holiday, following Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. Among the top 10 cities, Harbin is the only one located in northeast China.

During the recent three-day New Year holiday, Harbin received over 3 million tourists, creating a revenue of 5.9 billion yuan ($826 million), according to the latest data from the Harbin municipal bureau of culture, radio, television and tourism. Both numbers surpassed historic highs.

Tourists take part in a New Year event at the Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, December 31, 2023. /Xinhua

Tourists take part in a New Year event at the Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, December 31, 2023. /Xinhua

Tourists take part in a New Year event at the Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, December 31, 2023. /Xinhua

A winter wonderland

Wearing puffer jackets, hats and gloves, tens of thousands of tourists would dance to the music in the Harbin Ice-Snow World, an ice and snow theme park, when the temperature was as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Launched in 1999, the park has been a star of the city’s winter tourism. This winter, it has built nearly 1,000 ice and snow sculptures and artistic installations, and a diverse range of activities are on offer to entertain tourists.

The giant ice slide is the most popular item among park-goers. In order to meet the rising demand of tourists, the number of slides has increased from eight in previous years to 14, with the longest one extending 521 meters.

“I waited about five hours before trying the slide, but it’s totally worth it,” He Xiaoyu, who just got off a slide, told China Media Group (CMG) with excitement.

Tourists try the giant ice slide at the Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, December 18, 2023. /CFP

Tourists try the giant ice slide at the Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, December 18, 2023. /CFP

Tourists try the giant ice slide at the Harbin Ice-Snow World in Harbin, December 18, 2023. /CFP

In addition to the allure of icy adventures, Harbin’s tourism boom is also a testament to China’s burgeoning enthusiasm for winter sports, with the city set to host the 2025 Asian Winter Games.

As the hub of rail traffic in northeast China, Harbin connects the world-famous Yabuli ski resort and other famous ice and snow tourist attractions, which can all be reached in two or three hours. While Harbin witnesses an unprecedented surge in winter tourism, cities like Mohe and Yichun also see growing numbers of tourists.

Yang Xiaoliang, a ski instructor, told CMG that he goes to the ski resort almost every day and that high-speed trains are very convenient. Located about 220 kilometers southeast of Harbin, the Yabuli ski resort can be reached by high-speed train in about an hour.

The skiing culture in China is still in the making, with the number of skiers in China expected to reach 35 million by 2027, according to data from Sullivan Consulting.

Tourists pose for a photo in costumes against the backdrop of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Harbin, January 1, 2024. /CFP

Tourists pose for a photo in costumes against the backdrop of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Harbin, January 1, 2024. /CFP

Tourists pose for a photo in costumes against the backdrop of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Harbin, January 1, 2024. /CFP

Hospitality, creativity and more

The boom cannot be attributed to pure luck since Harbin has been preparing for it for a year, said He Jing, director of the Department of Culture and Tourism of Heilongjiang Province.

She said the city has been rolling out plans since the beginning of 2023 to boost its tourism sector, attracting attention on various social media platforms.

“We stand in the shoes of tourists. We pay special attention to their comments under our videos published on social media platforms. Whatever tourists complain about, we move and improve immediately,” she told CMG.

To “rescue” tourists who are not used to the cold weather, the city built many temporary heated rest rooms for them, providing warm drinks for free. Frozen pears, a local specialty, were cut into the shapes of flowers so that tourists could enjoy them conveniently. The city even flies a big artificial moon over the Saint Sophia Cathedral so that tourists can take stylish pictures.

“We want to impress tourists with all the small details, letting them feel comfortable and respected,” said He.

Touched by the city’s “small details,” tourists share their heart-warming moments online, which in turn draws more curious tourists to the city, pushing the city to the top of trending topics on the internet.

A staff member of a shopping mall (R) provides free warm water for a tourist on the Central Street of Daoli District, Harbin, January 3, 2024. /CFP

A staff member of a shopping mall (R) provides free warm water for a tourist on the Central Street of Daoli District, Harbin, January 3, 2024. /CFP

A staff member of a shopping mall (R) provides free warm water for a tourist on the Central Street of Daoli District, Harbin, January 3, 2024. /CFP

In an open letter to tourists, Heilongjiang Province extended their thanks to those who made suggestions and praised their services, saying that their ideas inspired the locals to improve and upgrade their tourism sector. 

Dai Bin, president of China Tourism Academy, said the whole tourism market in China was better than expected during the New Year holiday.

During this period, over 135 million domestic trips were made in China, up 155 percent from last year and 9.4 percent from 2019, data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism showed.

“Both supply and demand are booming,” said Dai. “Such a good start will boost confidence in China’s tourism economy in 2024.”

(Cover designed by Yin Yating)

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