What can all tourism destinations learn from the story of Harbin?

February 1, 2024
By Helena Beard

Harbin is a city in Northern China. This winter, thanks to an outstanding marketing and customer engagement strategy involving the residents as well as the tourism industry, the city has welcomed six million visitors already and is expecting millions more over the Chinese New Year. The city’s winter tourism success story is turning heads, and not just in China, but around the world.

In China, cities that have achieved Internet fame through tourism are often called “Internet Celebrity Tourist Cities.” These cities leverage the power of Chinese influencers asking Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs), and ordinary people to continuously share their enchanting travel experiences on social media platforms, enticing more and more people to explore for themselves. This phenomenon underscores the power of online marketing in attracting Chinese tourists and Harbin is not the only destination to have achieved this kind of success (in summer 23, there was similar tourism fervour surrounding the Zibo barbecue in Northeast China) but it seems to be breaking all records in the sheer scale of the visitor numbers.

How did they do it?

1. Meticulous Planning by the Tourism Bureau and Local Residents

Harbin, known for its northern grit, is often associated with a rugged exterior. Northerners, typically known for their candidness and forthrightness, sometimes make southern Chinese apprehensive about adapting to the northern way of life and service standards so, to dispel such concerns and improve the visitor experience, the Harbin Tourism Bureau and residents have initiated service guidelines that treat every visitor like royalty. They have thoughtfully installed street heating stations for those unaccustomed to the cold and placed non-slip carpets on subway entrance steps to prevent accidents in snowy weather. Even local taxi drivers have embraced the hospitality, addressing passengers as “Princess” or “Prince” when welcoming them into their vehicles. These heartwarming gestures have gone viral on social media platforms, resulting in thousands of positive comments.

2. Unmatched ‘Ice’ Tourism

Harbin, crowned as the coldest city in China, is capitalising on its freezing temperatures to create unparalleled ice-related attractions. Foremost among them is the world’s largest ice sculpture exhibition, aptly named the ‘World of Ice and Snow.’ Visitors flock to the mesmerising ice sculptures, including castles, Buddha statues, gigantic slides, and enchanting ice sculpture light displays. Furthermore, Harbin offers various ice activities, from skating and skiing to sledging and even thrilling ice motorcycle and hovercraft rides. When you add Harbin’s natural beauty and European-style architecture, it becomes the quintessential destination for those from southern China seeking the perfect winter wonderland.

3. Crafting Social Media Buzz

Harbin enlisted a selection of hometown celebrities this winter to promote the city. Later, they invited internet sensations to experience Harbin firsthand and generate captivating content. These initiatives included highlighting the outdoor nightclub in the Ice and Snow World, showcasing Harbin as the ultimate ice sculpture city for photography enthusiasts, introducing Rolls-Royce taxis, promoting delectable and affordable northern cuisine, and emphasizing the warmth and friendliness of the residents. The city also strategically placed numerous photo-friendly locations, like Siberian tiger photo opportunities (not that we would condone that!) and aerial drone performances on bustling shopping streets, making every corner of Harbin a picturesque delight worth sharing on social media.

In summary, Harbin’s meteoric rise as China’s most sought-after winter tourist destination can be attributed to its unwavering commitment to offering every visitor a warm and memorable experience. The city’s mission is for all those who venture to Harbin to receive the warmest welcome and leave with cherished memories. As the Chinese New Year approaches, it’s safe to say that Harbin is poised to be China’s biggest success story of 2024, beckoning travellers from near and far to partake in its winter wonderland.

If you would like to talk to us about your Chinese tourism strategy, improving your China Welcome, or working with Chinese influencers to attract tourists to your destination, please do get in touch for a chat.

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