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Provincial delegation to China highlights B.C.'s ski industry

'Ski British Columbia' themed luncheon aimed at tapping growing Chinese tourism market


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The B.C. government is looking to China to grow the province's ski industry. As part of a recent trade mission to Asia, a delegation held a luncheon event in Beijing aimed at attracting Chinese skiers.

"China is the world's fastest growing market for international visitors," said Minister of Tourism Lisa Beare, who hosted the Beijing luncheon. Now is the "perfect opportunity to promote Canada and B.C. as the destination of choice."

Around 140 tour operators, marketers and ski-industry professionals attended the event, said Beare. "This was a fantastic opportunity to talk to Chinese travel agents and tour agents directly and tell them how beautiful British Columbia is.

"British Columbia is able to offer unique opportunities that you can't find elsewhere in the world. Our stunning alpine resorts like Whistler offer Chinese visitors an experience they can't get (in China)," she said.

During the trip, Destination BC was able to strike an important deal with the owners of WeChat, the Chinese social-media giant. "They have almost a billion users monthly. This is an opportunity for Destination BC and British Columbia to market British Columbia directly to Chinese social-media users," said Beare.

When asked if there's anything that B.C. ski resorts need to do to appeal to Chinese tourists, Beare said the resorts are doing a "fantastic job."

"We offer lessons in languages of choice, particularly in Whistler... The hotels and tour operators are very understanding of the Chinese market. We're doing a great job of encouraging Chinese visitors to come to British Columbia."

According to Beare, Chinese travellers are attracted to B.C. for a host of reasons. "They love the farm-to-table and wine experience in the Okanagan, and the rich Chinese-Canadian history in Barkerville... (Skiing) is another reason to come and visit," she said.

The trade mission coincides with a federal government initiative aimed at promoting and highlighting Chinese tourism in Canada. The federal government has named 2018 the Canada–China Year of Tourism, and has set a goal of doubling the number of Chinese tourists coming to Canada by 2021.

The government's increased focus on Chinese tourism fits well with Vail Resorts' aim of growing Whistler's profile in China.

"We feel we are uniquely positioned to be able to access (the Chinese) market with direct flights to Vancouver," said Marc Riddell, senior manager of communications for Whistler Blackcomb. "It's something we are totally aware of and really want to make inroads into growing."

Targeting the Chinese market through advertising and outreach is part of a "company-wide push" for Vail Resorts, he explained, adding that "Whistler is the feature" within the push.

During a conference call with investors on Dec. 7, 2017 — the day Vail Resorts announced its historic $66-milion investment in on mountain infrastructure — Vail Resorts CEO Robert Katz drew a connection between Whistler Blackcomb's forthcoming state-of-the-art gondola and the burgeoning Chinese tourism market.

"We're obviously trying to open up new markets in Whistler, especially at the high end, both in Asia and the United States and Europe," explained Katz.

"This kind of gondola experience very much drives the perception of high quality, which we think allows us to attract that kind of high-end guest."

China's ski industry is red hot: since 1996, the number of skiers has grown from around 10,000 to more than 12 million. The trend is expected to go in the lead-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are set to be hosted in Beijing.

The luncheon event was one part of a 10-day tour aimed at increasing trade with Asia. With NAFTA negotiations moving slowly and the U.S.'s decision to increase tariffs on softwood lumber, B.C. is looking to grow oversees markets.