China's 'ice city' Harbin draws record tourists over New Year holiday

China’s ‘ice city’ Harbin draws record tourists over New Year holiday

BEIJING, Jan 4 (Reuters) – The “ice city” of Harbin, the snowy capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, drew a record number of visitors over the New Year holiday, many of them drawn by the grand and intricate ice sculptures of its annual Ice and Snow Festival.

The towering ice sculptures, illuminated in a dazzling array of lights at night, are built from ice blocks harvested from the frozen Songhua River nearby.

This year’s festival helped draw 3.05 million visitors to Harbin during the three-day New Year holiday that ended on Monday, earning 5.91 billion yuan ($826 million) in tourism revenue, state media agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

Those numbers topped the number of pre-COVID visits in 2019.

Growth in the city’s accommodation and catering sectors during the holiday time more than doubled from 2019, local newspaper Harbin Daily reported. The city’s tourism department attributed the growth to Harbin’s growing popularity on social media platforms, Xinhua said.

The tourism boom occurred as China’s services activity grew at the fastest pace in five months in December, lifting optimism in the sector to a three-month high.

Harbin’s authorities have rolled out activities to attract tourists including live shows and concerts, theme parks and fireworks displays, as well as improving dining, accommodation and shopping services, Xinhua said.

The Ice and Snow Festival park got 163,200 visitors over the New Year holidays, over five times more than a year ago, with almost 40% of those holiday makers coming on New Year’s Eve, Heilongjiang provincial television said in a social media post.

That made 46.18 million yuan in income, nearly six times higher than a year ago, the provincial TV station said.

Heilongjiang welcomed 6.619 million tourists over the three-day period, nearly triple from a year ago, producing tourism revenue of 6.920 billion yuan, almost five times the year ago number, the station reported.

The city government announced a special public holiday, the Ice and Snow Holiday, for Friday, to coincide with the festival’s official start.

The surge in domestic winter tourism has helped local companies in the sector. Shares of ChangBai Mountain Tourism Co (603099.SS), a travel service company based in northeast China, have soared by 26% in Shanghai trading since the last week of December, beating average shares.

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