BEIJING, Feb. 3 -- The upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics is inspiring Chinese tourists to look for sporting fun in the Russian city despite the traditional winter low season for tourism to Russia.
The Sochi Games are the 22nd Winter Olympics and will run from Feb. 7 to 23. With Chinese President Xi Jinping due to attend the opening ceremony, the hype has boosted Chinese people's interest in the city.
Beijing U-Tour International Travel Service Co. Ltd and a consultant company under China Sports Industry Group Co. Ltd partnered in June 2013 to form the only authorized ticket seller for Chinese tourists to the Games.
U-Tour has introduced a series of Sochi programs including a seven-day package that allows tourists to enjoy both the Games and local sites. All group tickets had sold out by Jan. 21, said Yu Hui, a manager of the agency.
Inquires about Russia services are soaring, in sharp contrast with the same period in previous years, Yu said, without giving specific figures due to concerns about commercial sensitivity.
Aged between 35 and 50, most of those booked to visit Sochi are fans of winter tourism, company employees and the retired, according to the travel agent.
"As market feedback on our programs to Sochi matches our expectation, we are introducing more services to Russia during the Spring Festival," she said.
Sochi has become a hot topic in Chinese cyberspace too, with many netizens sharing their experiences of traveling, shopping and eating in the city.
A netizen with the screen name "Fanzhoupiaoliu" posted more than 60 photos from her sightseeing around Sochi's mountains and coastline, the beauty of which inspired admiration in other web users.
"I plan to visit all the museums in Sochi and meet local people and volunteers from all over the world," wrote "fzkhello," who identified himself as a student at Sun Yat-Sen University. "I will also watch the Games. The curling competition is my favorite."
Other agencies are also promoting travel to Sochi and wider Russia, focusing on sports events, skiing, angling as well as the opportunity to take photos of the icy world.
China has become Russia's second-biggest source of tourists, while Russia is China's third-largest source. Some 343,000 Chinese traveled to Russia in 2012, almost triple the 127,000 that did so in 2008, according to official Russian statistics.
The two countries held the "Tourism Year of China" in Russia in 2013 and the "Tourism Year of Russia" in China in 2012, initiatives aimed at fostering tourist ties and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.