Austria keen to bring winter wonders to China

2018-04-10 Editor: Mo Hong'e ECNS App Download

Elisabeth Köstinger simply enjoyed Beijing's early April spring sunshine, as it is still winter sports and ski season in her country of Austria.

Led by the country's president and chancellor, the Austrian Minister of Sustainability and Tourism is part of a historic delegation to China, generating cooperation in the areas she oversees, especially winter vacations.

Boasting 254 ski areas with more than 2,900 lifts and 1.14 million hotel beds, Austria, with an area of no more than 85,000 square kilometers and high mountains, is the largest winter vacation market and most international winter destination in Europe.

"We have a large area of connected ski areas with luxury resorts and five-star hotels. We meet everyone's needs, for example, family slopes. Families can stay with a very low budget."

The country features one of the world's top 10 skiing resorts, St. Anton/Arlberg, with 305 kilometers of slopes and a ski season that lasts as long as late April.

In January, the Hahnenkamm race, the world's most dangerous and prestigious downhill race and a World Cup speed event, takes place in Kitzbuhel in Tirol province of Western Austria. Skiers start from an altitude as high as nearly 2,000 meters and speed down the 3.3 km course to 600 meters in altitude within two minutes.

Beginning with the 2017-2018 season, ski passes for three or more days between the Sölden and Obergurgl-Hochgurgl ski resorts are valid for 254 kilometers of slopes and 55 lifts. An adult six-day pass sells for 285 euros ($350) in the peak period and 257 euros in the low season.

Chinese winter tourists contributed 290,625 of the total 13.2 million international arrivals in Austria during the 2016-2017 season, a 33.2 percent annual increase. Direct flights to Vienna take off from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

"For Chinese guests, besides ski areas, we have other programs, like visiting neighboring cities, including Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, and Vienna, which has the biggest musical heritage," the minister said. She added Chinese tourists can combine natural and cultural experiences, as they have to travel across the Eurasian continent to get to her country, which lies in the heart of Europe.

Austria is the birthplace of modern skiing and the sport is in the blood of its people, as children normally learn to ski even before they can walk.

Besides skiing, winter vacationers can enjoy Christmas markets, winter walks, snowshoeing and authentic local food. Thermal spas are scattered around the ski areas.

The country has hosted the Winter Olympics twice (1964 and 1976) and has much knowledge to share with the next organizer. "Safety is the very first issue, both in people's physical safety on the slopes and organizing big events like the Olympics," said Köstinger.

The Austrian Winter Sports Days 2018 Conference was held at Vanke Lake Songhua Resort in China's Jilin province in February. The resort, equipped with ropeways made by Austria's Doppelmayr Group, has become China's top-level ski resort.

Axess AG, an Austrian company developing secure and customized systems for ticketing and access management for ski resorts, is reported to invest in China's winter sports industry.

A latecomer though, China is expected to be home to 300 million winter sports enthusiasts by 2025, according to China's ambitious plans to build a winter sports infrastructure and popularize winter sports.

The plan, released in November 2016, said at least 650 skating rinks and 800 ski resorts are expected to be built across the country by 2022, triggering a 1 trillion yuan ($144.5 billion) winter sports industry by 2025.

"Also, we have a lot of knowledge in training and education ... Most of the winter sports leaders are training in Austria. This is really something that's a pleasure for us to offer to you," the minister said.

The landlocked Alpine country is more than winter fun thanks to its perfect climate and natural wonders. As Köstinger said: "You go hiking in summer on the same slope that you ski in winter. Everything is useful all through the year."

According to Friedrich Stift, Austrian ambassador to China, the country received a record 900,000 Chinese tourists last year. The country profited from balanced revenue from winter and summer holidays during the past decade.

Köstinger said Austria is making its way to play a bigger role in the Belt and Road Initiative. In her areas, she said they would like to attract more Chinese tourists with the right programs and expect more agreements in environmental technology, like improving air and water quality.

"Also we produce pork meat of pretty high quality. We have a lot of organic farms and Austria exports the products of these farms to many countries all over the world," she said.

The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to create greater trade, infrastructure and people-to-people links between Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond by reviving and expanding the ancient Silk Road routes.

Köstinger, who also serves as the vice-president of the Austrian Farmers Association and was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Austria from 2009 to 2017, said "trade bans and sanctions are always bad ideas" regarding the current trade tensions between China and the US.

"We create our wealth in the Chinese, the European and also the US market because of free trade. We are very interested in getting a closer connection in the field of the export market, and this could be quite a fruitful future for both sides," she said.


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