In Valloire (Haute Savoie), different actors in tourism and local elected representatives debated the attractiveness of the French Alps in the eyes of Chinese tourists. The director of the Mountain Strategy of Club Med unveiled its 10 year crossover plan in France and China.
« During the six years to come, the worldwide attention will focus on Asia, with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in South Korea in 2018 and Beijing in 2022. » Gathered around a round table organized by the office of tourism of Valloire (Haute Savoie), mountain tourism stakeholders and local elected representatives of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region discussed different ways to attract Chinese tourists in the French Alps resorts. The context seems promising with a number of Chinese skiers in full expansion, and a practice encouraged by the Chinese Government, which has announced its goal of 300 million mountain sports enthusiasts throughout the country within 25 years. However, the game is far from won with only 100,000 Chinese tourists welcomed in Savoie Mont Blanc in 2015.
« We need to quickly position ourselves to tap into the Olympics effect », insisted Perrine Pelen, outside market manager of Savoie Mont Blanc tourism, who argued that observing the competitor countries is instructive. In Switzerland, a number of destinations obtain the certification ‘Chinese Tourist Welcome Quality Services’, a three-stage label set up by the Chinese Ountbound Tourism Research Institute, which guarantees that the cultural characteristics of the Chinese customer are taken into account, such as the indispensable presenceof a kettle in the hotel room and of a space dedicated to luxury shopping in the surrounding area. About Austria, « the country knows how to demonstrate unity », said Perrine Pelen : « at the ISPO fair in Beijing, ski resorts, manufacturers and travel agencies were grouped under a single visual identity Austria. »
Jean-Marc Silva, director of France Montagne, an association of key players in the mountain tourism in France, stated its willingness to organize grouped operations ‘French Montains in China’, « such as what was done towards Russia 20 years ago, to associate the ski with internationally recognized French excellence. »
Club Med begins in China
The need to « avoid going in different directions » is also paramount for Xavier Le Guillermic, director of Mountain Strategy of Club Med, who expressed “optimism about the long term, 2025 prospects. » Meanwhile, « education will be long, and begins in our villages in China. » In November 2016, Club Med will open at Beidahu in Jilin province its second Chinese ski resort, after Yabuli, also located in northeast China not far from Harbin in Heilongjiang province. « We are targeting Chinese customers, who may go skiing eventually in Europe and Japan, where we have in this regard doubled our capacity in Hokkaido », explained Xavier Le Guillermic, who underlined that « skiing, which concerns 200 stations in China, remains a hyperluxe. »
For the middle class who cannot afford these premium holidays, « we are developing an urban village outdoor concept to practice hiking, tennis or cycling for the Chinese who are discovering the leisure culture and want to find occupation during their three weeks annual vacation. » Named Joyview, the project includes the opening of 5 to 10 villages within 10 years. By 2026, the Club Med plans to count 20 villages in China – including sea resorts – from four currently.
Now majority owned by the Chinese group Fosun, Club Med does not neglect other continents, and has announced a 300 million euros investment plan in France, including the annual opening of a village in the mountains for four years. To target the Chinese customers, a crossover strategy provides recruiting Chinese monitors in high end villages such as Valmorel and Peisey Vallandry, to extend the experiment of Chamonix, where the presence of a Chinese head of village for one year facilitated the arrival of Chinese tour operators. On the Chinese side, in the village of Club Med in Yabuli, a partnership with the ESF (French Ski School) allows French instructors to train Chinese teachers – in a context of shortage of experienced staff in the new Chinese resorts.
This initiative recalls the cooperation agreement signed 10 years ago between the Alps region and the Sichuan province. Pioneer at the time, this agreement still offers the possibility to many French companies to work in Sichuan, like the UCPA which has established a Centre, and thus to create a practice of mountain sports. This French specific mountain know-how can be an asset and compensate for disadvantages such as the near-absence of luxury shopping in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and the image of France sorely damaged lately.