How China's city of ice and snow is enhancing ties with Europe

(Xinhua) 13:29, January 25, 2024

Visitors take photos near an ice sculpture of a Terracotta Warrior in Harbin Ice and Snow World in Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Jan. 23, 2024. (Xinhua/Xie Jianfei)

"The name Harbin, the brand Harbin, and what it stands for, the ice sculpture, are famous," said CEO of Switzerland Tourism.

BEIJING, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- Bathed in enchanting moonlight, sculptures of the Temple of Heaven and Notre Dame Cathedral are attracting tourists from home and abroad in a celebration of ice and snow in the northern reaches of China.

Those brave enough to bear the frigid temperatures are participating in a cultural dialogue and exchange between China and France in the "ice city" of Harbin.

Hailing the scenery as remarkable, Lyazid Benhami, vice president of the Paris Association of French-Chinese Friendship, said he didn't expect to see the Notre Dame Cathedral's beauty in the form of an ice sculpture on social media.

Tourism in Harbin is booming, bringing a much-needed economic jolt to the region. More than 3 million visitors flocked to Harbin during the 2024 New Year holiday period, surging 441.4 percent from last winter, and tourism revenue rocketed 791.92 percent year on year to over 5.9 billion yuan (around 823 million U.S. dollars).

According to a new report by the online travel platform Trip, travel bookings to the snowy city for the upcoming Spring Festival holiday have surged by over 14 times compared to the previous year.

Observing a remarkable surge in passenger numbers at both the airport and train stations, Pierre G. Chidiac, general manager of Sofitel Harbin, which is operated by the leading French hospitality group Accor, said that tourists are not only exploring traditional attractions in Harbin but also venturing to ski resorts in the town of Yabuli and exploring the "Snow Town" in Mudanjiang City.

"We have noticed that Harbin is becoming a more and more popular tourism destination. The amazing winters with ice and snow activities, the comfortable summers, the beautiful nature along the Songhua River, delicious local snacks and the rich culture are among many reasons for me to believe in prosperous tourism," the French hotelier said.

Echoing Chidiac, Ye Fei, president and CEO of Michelin China, said that Harbin's thriving ice and snow tourism has showcased the robust vitality of China's economy and instilled confidence in Michelin and other international enterprises operating in the Chinese market.

"We plan to launch a series of food festivals in more Chinese cities, bringing high-quality French agricultural products, wines and more to Chinese consumers," Ye added.

With 2024 marking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France and the China-France Year of Culture and Tourism, anticipation is high for snow-related businesses to bring opportunities for both sides, further strengthening the connections between China and France.

A vendor sells stewed pears at the Hongzhuan Morning Market in Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Jan. 22, 2024. (Xinhua/Cai Yang)

Recently, China waived visa requirements for France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Ireland and cut visa fees for many countries, making it more convenient for personnel exchanges and tourism growth.

"The name Harbin, the brand Harbin, and what it stands for, the ice sculpture, are famous," Martin Nydegger, CEO of Switzerland Tourism, told Chinese media at the just concluded 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Noting that China and Switzerland have interesting assets in ice and snow tourism to share, Nydegger said, "We could learn from Harbin about how they do such a phenomenal spectacular sculpture festival."

The tourist professional is truly impressed by the fact that the "ice city" had drawn in more than 3 million visitors, equivalent to over one-third of his country's population, in just three days over the New Year holiday.

"Switzerland wants to welcome Chinese visitors very fast," he said.

In response, Wang Hongxin, head of the cultural, radio, television, and tourism department of Harbin, said, "Welcome to Harbin! Welcome to my hometown!"

Noting that Dongbei (referring to China's three northernmost provinces of Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Jilin) and Switzerland are both snowy places with similar latitudes, Wang said he looks forward to fostering closer ties between both sides. "We welcome friends from Switzerland to visit and explore Harbin."

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


Related Stories