High-speed rail network set to boost tourism in the winter

Updated: 2014-12-22 07:44

By Su Zhou(China Daily)

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Xiong Qi, a native of Central China's Hunan province who now lives in Shanghai, has decided to celebrate the "winter festival" by taking a trip to Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, to visit its famous ice festival.

"Winter festival" is how Xiong refers to the winter solstice, a time when as a child he ate dumplings and sat on his parents' comfortable sofa watching movies.

Although North China's snowy season is not a traditional time for outings, it has benefited from the expansion of the high-speed rail network and the growing public interest in winter sports, and an increasing number of travelers such as Xiong are embracing it as a time for fun.

"I don't have many opportunities to see heavy snow in my daily life, so naturally I was attracted by the ice world," the 33-year-old teacher said. "But North China is known for its bitterly cold winters and poor connections with other parts of the country, and it never crossed my mind that I would travel such a long way just to see some ice sculptures, but now, we have more high-speed trains, which are comfortable, affordable, and time-efficient," he added. "Also, with Beijing's bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, many of my friends are becoming interested in skiing and other winter sports."

According to the Harbin Tourism Administration, as the season commences the city will be one of the destinations for 10 dedicated high-speed tourist trains from East China, including one that will depart Hangzhou in Zhejiang province on Dec 24. The 800-seat train will call at major cities in Jiangsu province, such as Suzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou, as it carries tourists to destinations in Northeastern China, including Shenyang and Changbai Mountain in Liaoning province.

Moreover, a new high-speed rail link set to open by the end of 2017 will reduce the journey time between Beijing and Zhangjiakou in Hebei province to about 60 minutes. Zhangjiakou, 220 km northwest of the capital, is Beijing's bid partner for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, and the local authorities are expecting a great number of visitors to visit some of the new ski resorts in its Chongli area.

Travel agencies are also predicting a rapid rise in demand for "snowy sightseeing" as the network develops. Harbin ranked fourth in a recent list of the top eight tourist destinations in the Chinese mainland, according to Ctrip, an online travel service.

Zhang Guangrui, honorary director of the Tourism Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the high-speed rail network has changed China's tourism map and the behavior of tourists.

"For certain distances, the network is a better option than coaches or planes because of the relatively cheap prices, shorter journey times and convenience. Many cities would not have become tourism destinations if they weren't connected by the high-speed railway," he said.


High-speed rail network set to boost tourism in the winter

(China Daily 12/22/2014 page4)