By Si Thu Tun, Zuo Lin
Most people have not heard of the small town of Chongli in northern China, which will host many events for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Located about four hours from Beijing by car, Chongli is a district-level town in Zhangjiakou City, Hebei Province. It lies in the transition zone between the Inner Mongolia plateau and the North China Plain.
Surrounded by high mountains and annually engulfed in five months of freezing winter, Chongli was the most suitable nearby place to co-host the upcoming Winter Olympics games alongside Beijing. Even in summer the average temperature in the region is 19 degrees Celsius.
Only 10 Years
Just 10 years ago, Chongli didn’t have much hope. Every sector in the town lagged far behind other parts of China. Average income was low, and most villagers could not afford to send their children to high school. Local students tended to go to urban Zhangjiakou for high school education. “Almost no one studied here because it was so poor and you couldn’t see any hope,” recalled Wang Xinhe, who was born in Chongli 28 years ago. Growing up, she never considered traveling beyond the town and could have never imagined studying abroad. The locals have been amazed by the rapid recent development over such a short period of time. Three years ago, Wang’s parents received a major bump in income that enabled them to send their daughter abroad for further studies. Now she works at the Emerging Markets Institute of Beijing Normal University as student manager, which she never could have imagined.
“Now we have brand new schools with much better conditions,” Wang revealed. “Students don’t need to travel elsewhere to find better schools. A decade ago, most people worked as farmers or manual laborers. Incomes were low. Now the average income is much higher because so many people have become involved in ski industry and found employment at ski resorts. Our lives improved dramatically.”
In 2010, the Zhangjiakou- Chongli section of Zhangjiakou- Chengde Expressway opened to traffic, making it easier for people living near Chongli to visit and spend money. In November 2013, the 2022 Winter Olympics host city award was announced, at which point the poor county started developing exponentially. In 2014, the policy for Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei coordinated development was upgraded to national strategy, enabling Chongli to start taking advantage of the ski industry to drive tourism. Chongli was lifted out of poverty.
Construction of ski resorts in the area first began in 1996. Shan Zhaojian, the first national champion skier of the People’s Republic of China and then director of the Department of Skiing of the Sports Committee of China (General Administration of Sport of China), visited many places to scout for suitable ski slopes for amateurs in an effort to promote the sport. Chongli was presented as an option. Located only 200 kilometers from Beijing, Chongli was blessed with easily navigable roads and already attractive market potential. Chongli is situated in a transition area between the Inner Mongolia Plateau and the North China Plain, so its slopes are moderate. The winter comes early and brings plentiful snowfall. The average temperature during winter months is minus 12 degrees Celsius, enabling it to keep fallen snow for as long as five months. The natural conditions were always attractive for ski professionals. The first resort to be completed in Chongli was Saibei Ski Resort.
After improvements in artificial snow-making technology and growth of local consumption capacity, seven ski resorts including Wanlong and Genting have been operating in Chongli since 2003, which has driven development of peripheral industries.
As part of Chinese government polices to promote development of small towns and rural regions, local government has made moves to attract companies to invest in the region. Their first plan to modernize the town was considered impossible by many.
After the International Olympics Committee announced in July 2015 that Beijing was chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Chinese central government delivered major efforts to reduce poverty in the region. Private enterprises began flocking to Chongli to invest.
Fulong Holdings is a major private investor in Chongli. They now operate Fulong Four Seasons Town project in Chongli after a total investment of 26 billion yuan (US$3.7 billion). The project includes a ski resort, hotels, European style housing, hot springs and other amenities.
The 2015-2016 snow season was the first after China won the 2022 Olympic bid. Taking advantage of the big Winter Olympics news, Chongli received a total of 2.18 million tourists and earned an income of 1.54 billion yuan (US$220 million) with year-on-year growth of 31.6 percent. In 2016, adjustment of some administrative divisions in Zhangjiakou was approved by the State Council of China, after which Chongli was officially transformed from a county to a district as it embraced higher-quality development. During the 2018-2019 snow season, the total number of visitors to the seven major ski resorts in Chongli surpassed a million for the first time with year-on-year growth of 25.9 percent. Many more non-skiing tourists started visiting Chongli for vacation. The total number of tourists received by Chongli during the entire snow season reached 2.81 million.
In the past, the long snow season restricted Chongli’s agricultural development and made it difficult for local people to travel. But now the snow is fueling hot industry in Chongli, an area of 2,334 square kilometers.
Village store owner Gao Junsheng reported dwelling in a cave house in the mountains for many years before moving to a brick house in the village. The old house didn’t provide his family enough warmth during the winter. When investments started arriving in Chongli, locals’ lifestyle changed dramatically. Gao Junsheng is currently living in a new house with an effective heating system and owns a store at the center of the village. He never could have imagined living in such a comfortable house and earning money while at home. He said that the conditions are getting better every day.
Chongli consists of several villages. Most villagers throughout the town are farmers. Many formerly dwelt in cave houses in the mountains because the weather was so cold. When a China Report ASEAN team visited a village called Shangwopu with IMBA students from the Emerging Markets Institute, the group was amazed at how modern it looked. Rather than a village, it looked like a city suburb. Instead of traditional mud houses, the farmers were inhabiting new brick buildings scattered around a large center square.
“It was unbelievable to witness such development in a village,” exclaimed Mouaxeng Mouanhiabee from Laos, one of 50 visiting master students from this year’s IMBA program sponsored by the Emerging Markets Institute. “This is my first visit to an ancient village in China. They told me it is an old village. But everything looks brand new. I have seen impressive development in China’s infrastructure compared to many other countries. The local authorities have described some very good policies and how the money has helped local people develop their own economy.”
Guo Meihong, vice president of operations of Fulong Holdings, the contractor of the Shangwopu Village project, had warm feelings about the support from the Chongli government. “They’re very cooperative with private enterprises,” she remarked. “Securing local housing conditions was only the first step. As an enterprise, we also have a responsibility to promote villagers’ income stability and sustainable development.”
Guo described methods of capitalizing on the presence of tourists and guiding enterprises to transform farmers’ skills into productivity. Shangwopu Village has a long history, so it could develop into a folk cultural village offering integrated tourism including accommodations, sightseeing, leisure, vacation and food. Such attractions complement the ski resorts and round out the available personalized tourist experience—where anyone can have a good meal and a good time all in one place.
Chongli will be a major skiing venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The event is expected to bring 300 million people to the ice and snow industry and boost the area’s revenue to over 300 billion yuan (US$43 billion), according to analysis from Fulong Holdings. Now, an expressway and a railway connect Beijing and Chongli. Chongli will be part of the onehour economic circle of Beijing to contribute to the coordinated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province.
According to the International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism released on April 11, 2019, China’s market growth in the industry stayed rapid during winter 2017-2018, and the current upgrade of consumption is expected to make snow and mountain tourism more appealing to mid- and high-income consumers.
Zhangjiakou also needs to accelerate construction of the industrial park for ski amenities, introduce projects to manufacture high-end ski facilities, build the technology development center for ice-and-snow facilities and equipment, and develop an entire industrial chain including sales of skiing amenities, training, services for tourism and skiing games.
The blooming ice-and-snow industry has also attracted talent to Chongli. Zhao Qiang is a skiing instructor from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. He came to Chongli to teach skiing in Fulong Resort when it opened. “The volume of skiers has significantly increased over the past two years, and the demand for coaches is stronger,” he noted.
In 2018, Chongli added 28,000 hectares of forests, and the forest coverage rate reached 67 percent. It offers stunning spring blossoms, a cool summer retreat, colorful autumn scenery and five months of snow. Driven by natural advantages ideal for skiers, Chongli may evolve into the kind of place you would never want to leave.
Zhang Jianchen, director of strategic development at the Emerging Markets Institute, explained that although the 2022 Winter Olympics will boost Chongli’s economic development by attracting investment, the district would not stop developing after the games close. Clearly, Chongli’s future is glistening.