Read enough figures out of China about the economic behemoth's light-speed growth, and you're bound to feel a little overwhelmed.
Here's another mind-boggling stat to mull over: Research firm CLSA predicts that, by 2020, the number of annual outbound Chinese tourists could double to 200 million. Fuelled by a rapidly expanding middle class and a growing appetite for tourism, Chinese arrivals to B.C. rose 27 per cent between January and September this year. While the majority of those visits were concentrated to the summer, the country's upwardly mobile are becoming increasingly attracted to the luxury of a ski lifestyle, with consumer website Jing Daily counting as many as 20 million Chinese skiers today — a 100-fold increase since the turn of the century.
"First and foremost, China is a significant and rapidly growing source of tourism for British Columbia and Canada," said David Lynn, president of the Canada West Ski Areas Association. "At this juncture, most of those visitors are not skiers but we know the ski industry is growing rapidly in China. It skews heavily to beginners at this point, but of course they're going to move along that learning curve over time. You will have more and more destination skiers coming to Canada."
While the sport is still in its infancy, Whistler Blackcomb (WB) has worked diligently to position itself for a possible influx of Chinese skiers. For the past two years, WB has sent ski and snowboard instructors on promotional trips to Chinese resorts to grow the sport and build Whistler's reputation. The mountain also employs several Chinese-speaking ski instructors and staff, which will become a growing need for the ski resort and community as a whole, said Tourism Whistler's director of market development, Shawna Lang.
"Mandarin-speaking frontline staff is going to be very important to us," she said. "We need to make sure we're thinking about language when we're hiring and looking at frontline staff."
With the recent changes to Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program, however, hiring ski instructors with the proper training and language qualifications has become "somewhat compromised," explained Lynn.
"One of our key arguments has been that we primarily hire Canadians, but we'd like to augment that with snow sports instructors from other parts of the world that bring different skills, including their language skills," he said.
Gaining traction in the Chinese market has been a significant goal of Tourism Whistler's marketing efforts. The tourism provider is currently partnered with 14 Chinese tour companies to promote ski vacation packages to Whistler and educate the tourism sector on the sport and its ancillary businesses. Representatives from Whistler were also on-hand in Beijing last month for the Ski & Style luxury show, which included exhibitions from several national tourism authorities.
Still, the immediate focus for resort stakeholders remains on China's summer tourism potential, with a longer view towards the winter. That means ensuring Whistler continues its evolution into a four-season resort that effectively serves the needs of the Chinese visitor, said Whistler Blackcomb's senior VP of marketing, Stuart Rempel.
"As this market grows very quickly, Whistler has to make sure to have the right product for the Chinese market in terms of language, food, accommodation and really understanding the Chinese customers," he said.
"There are certain cultural norms and traditions that you have to respect and Destination BC and the (Canadian Tourism Commission) have been helping train through their host programs, so we can really understand what the needs of these markets are."