Development and Management of Ice and Snow Tourism in China

Characteristics and Determinants of China’s Ice-and-Snow Tourism Industrial Cluster

  • SONG Changyao , 1 ,
  • YIN Tingting 1 ,
  • LI Xinjian , 1, 2, * ,
  • CHEN Wei 1 ,
  • LI Shan 2
  • 1. Beijing International Studies University, Beijing 100024, China
  • 2. Jishou University, Zhangjiajie, Hunan 427000, China
  • 3. Beijing Sport University, Beijing 100084, China
*LI Xinjian, E-mail:

SONG Changyao, E-mail:

Received date: 2021-10-07

  Accepted date: 2022-01-28

  Online published: 2022-06-07

Supported by

The Major Program of National Social Science Foundation of China(20ZDA067)

The Excellent Youth Scholars of Beijing International Studies University(21110010015)

The National Natural Science Foundation of China(42071199)

The Disciplines Construction Improvement Fund for Tutor of Ph.D.Student, Beijing International Studies University to LI Xinjian(11121015012)


Ice-and-snow tourism (IST) is a booming industry, and the development of its industrial clusters reflects its regional development quality. Taking 1985-2021 data for China’s IST enterprises, this study used industrial cluster identification and industrial correlation analysis to explore the development of IST industrial clusters. The following results were obtained: (1) China’s IST initially formed hotspot industrial clusters in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, the Northeast, the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, Chengdu-Chongqing, and Xinjiang regions. (2) Multiple industry forms failed to become deeply integrated into development, indicating a need to optimize the structure of the IST industrial chain. (3) The development environment of IST industrial clusters in each province showed differentiated characteristics. (4) IST industrial clustering was affected by both internal and external factors. External factors were grouped into climate and ice-and-snow resources, government policies and sports events, and economic fundamentals and market conditions. Internal factors included industrial association and industrial integration in the IST industrial cluster. Based on this study’s identification of the characteristics of China’s IST industrial clusters, countermeasures are proposed for their optimal development.

Cite this article

SONG Changyao , YIN Tingting , LI Xinjian , CHEN Wei , LI Shan . Characteristics and Determinants of China’s Ice-and-Snow Tourism Industrial Cluster[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2022 , 13(4) : 564 -577 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2022.04.003

1 Introduction

Ice-and-snow tourism (IST) is an umbrella term for various activities that take ice-and-snow climate resources as the main tourist attraction (Fischer et al., 2011). As a participatory, experiential, and stimulating tourism activity, IST has developed rapidly with increases in people’s income. Compared with traditional industries, IST in China is an emerging industry that is in the initial stage of development. Hence, urgent objectives for IST industry development include a complete development system, scientific planning, brand and talent strategies, innovation growth, and entrepreneurship (Li et al., 2016).
Industrial clustering is a useful perspective for studying the IST industry. The IST industry depends highly on cli-mate resources and topographical conditions (McDowell et al., 2014), which also require transportation convenience and market accessibility. Because of the nature of the industry, clustering is necessary for the development of IST enterprises. Since enterprises neither operate nor innovate in isolation, industrial clustering is considered a powerful tool for promoting synergy and innovation (Charles and Benneworth, 2001). However, in the context of industrial diversification, clustering should not be seen as a naturally occurring process but as a complex collaborative process associated with stakeholders (Marina et al., 2006). It is important, therefore, to identify the internal structures of industrial clusters (Feser and Bergman, 2000). In particular, in IST industrial clusters, there is a need to increase synergies and productivity, transfer knowledge, produce innovative services, and strengthen employment and comarketing (Bell, 2005).
China provides an excellent case for studying the IST industrial cluster. This is because China not only has a large IST consumer market and many related companies, but also hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics. Since Beijing and Zhangjiakou successfully bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, China’s IST industry has ushered in a new period of development. To provide policy support for such development, China issued the “Opinions on the Vigorous Development of Ice-and-Snow Sports with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics” and the “Action Plan for the Development of Ice-and-Snow Tourism (2019-2022)” (Chen, 2018). Meanwhile, the 2022 Winter Olympics also present an opportunity to promote China’s “South Development, West Expansion, and East Expansion” strategy for ice-and-snow sports. As a result of the event, the foundation of China’s IST industry has been strengthened, integration between the IST industry and related industries has been enhanced, and the potential of the industry has been expanded.
As an interdisciplinary field related to both sports and tourism studies, IST research has attracted considerable attention in China. The present study aimed to reveal the development of the IST industry by investigating the identification and optimization of IST industrial clusters.

2 Literature review

2.1 Tourism clusters

An industrial cluster is a group of interrelated enterprises gathered in a space. The enterprise group belongs to or is related to a certain industry and is connected in the cluster based on commonality and complementarity (Porter, 2003). A tourism cluster comprises multiple industries, which means it is not simply made up of coexisting travel companies but dynamically formed by the relationships between different industries within the cluster (Cole, 2009). For tourists, these organizations provide products and services in tandem for an integrated travel experience (Wang and Fesenmaier, 2007). A tourism cluster is not just based on natural features or attractive landscapes but an economy formed by connected economic activities related to tourism (Capone and Boix, 2008). The relevant stakeholders in tourism clusters are company providers, specialized suppliers, firms in related industries (e.g., accommodations, agencies, tour guides, restaurants, and exhibitors), related government agencies, academic institutions, federations and associations, financial institutions, and customers (Gunjan, 2003). As tourism clusters rapidly grow, companies can benefit from activities such as local collaboration, integrated marketing, knowledge transfer, networked resource development, and talent exchange. In this regard, Lee et al. (2020) examined the importance of tourism clusters in peer-to-peer accommodation.

2.2 IST

IST affects economic and social development (Steiger and Scott, 2019; Reckard and Stokowski, 2021). It can help reduce poverty (An et al., 2021) and enhance residents’ happiness (Mirehie and Gibson, 2019). The determinants of IST have been widely investigated in the literature (Jin et al., 2020), with the effects of climate change on ski tourism receiving the most attention (Morin et al., 2021; Steiger et al., 2020). Ballotta et al. (2020) studied the hedging strategies tourism operators in ski resorts use to protect their profitability against adverse climatic conditions. Willibald et al. (2021) proposed that technical snow production could be an appropriate adaptation strategy to deal with risks from climate change for ski tourism. Other studies have focused on IST demand. Falk (2015), for example, investigated the determinants of long-term winter tourism demand for French ski resorts. Bichler and Pikkemaat (2021), meanwhile, identified the factors affecting skiers’ motivation to visit urban destinations with a winter sports infrastructure.
IST presents an agglomerated development pattern. For example, a strong IST cluster has been formed in the Alpine region (Denning, 2014). As an emerging form of industrial cluster, IST has spatial agglomeration, industrial correlation, regional roots, informal networks, and the internal coordination of industrial clusters. Lasanta et al. (2007) noted that the areas affected by ski resorts are restricted to the municipalities nearest to them. However, research on the IST industry has mainly focused on determinants, or consumer behavior preferences, with relatively few studies on IST clusters. Specifically, few studies have paid attention to the characteristics of IST enterprises from the perspective of industrial clusters, especially for fast-developing IST destinations. This study aimed to fill this research gap, taking China as an example.

3 Method

3.1 Data source

We used 18 keywords to search for enterprises using the advanced search function on Qichacha (a Chinese website for enterprise research). The keywords included ski resort, ski tourism, ski vacation, ski entertainment, ski products, ski equipment, ski park, ski service, snowboards, ice-and-snow tourism, ice-and-snow culture, ice-and-snow technology, ice-and-snow industry and commerce, ice-and-snow industry, ice-and-snow equipment, ice-and-snow amusement, and ice-and-snow sports. For each enterprise, the related information mainly included enterprise name, registration status, registered capital, date of establishment, province, organization code, enterprise type, industry, enterprise address, and business scope. After screening and integration, 2990 data for IST enterprises were finally obtained, and the latitude and longitude information of these enterprises was obtained based on Baidu Maps.

3.2 Methodology

3.2.1 Industrial cluster identification

Early approaches to industrial cluster identification were mostly based on qualitative descriptions; these lacked quantitative measurement and had considerable uncertainty. While recent studies have identified industrial clusters in different ways, the most commonly used methods are the location quotient method and input-output analysis. However, these methods have been used to identify manufacturing clusters. The IST industry is different from manufacturing. Its output value cannot be counted and calculated as with the manufacturing industry. Moreover, current IST statistics are incomplete; thus, there is not enough data to use previous identification methods based on the output value. Therefore, this study used big data processing and kernel density analysis to determine the agglomeration degree of IST enterprises based on the spatial proximity and vertical linkage of industrial clusters (Zhang, 2006). Accordingly, we analyzed the organizational characteristics of the identified clusters.
Kernel density analysis is used to calculate the density of factors in surrounding areas. It can calculate the density of point or line factors and thus visually characterize the degree of spatial agglomeration of a certain socioeconomic activity. Thus, this study used kernel density analysis to analyze the spatial differentiation characteristics of IST enterprises. We analyzed the agglomeration of IST enterprises in China to produce a continuous density surface whose density values indicated the magnitude of the spatial clustering or dispersion of IST enterprises, which was visualized using ArcGIS 10.7. The kernel density analysis formula is as follows:
$F_{n}(x)=\frac{1}{n h} \sum_{i=1}^{n} K\left(\frac{x-x_{i}}{h}\right)$
where Fn(x) is the estimated kernel density of IST enterprises, h is the bandwidth (m), K is the kernel density function, n is the sample size of IST enterprises (pcs), and x-xi is the estimated distance between two centroids (m).

3.2.2 Industrial correlation analysis

The vertical linkage between upstream and downstream enterprises is an important mechanism for promoting industrial agglomeration. Marshall (1890) proposed three mechanisms for promoting industrial agglomeration, one of which is the vertical linkage between upstream and downstream firms in an industry. The rationale behind this is obvious: the concentration of many downstream enterprises in a region will support more specialized upstream enterprises. In turn, more upstream enterprises will make the production of downstream enterprises more efficient, thus promoting the agglomeration of downstream enterprises.
We considered that IST is part of the ice-and-snow industry, which is composed of six major segments: ice-and- snow equipment and facilities, ice-and-snow clothing and equipment, IST, ice-and-snow sports training, ice-and-snow events, and ice-and-snow marketing. To study the development-stage characteristics of the IST industry and problems in the operation of the IST industrial chain (Fig. 1), this study expanded the scope of the target enterprises. The enterprises included in the IST industry were divided into core enterprises according to the vertical connection between upstream and downstream industries. The remaining enterprises were divided into forward linkages, backward linkages, and lateral linkages according to the location and function of the industrial chain. Core enterprises refer to those that have more extensive and close connections with other enterprises within the cluster and play an organizational and driving role. These include enterprises that primarily engage in IST, ice-and-snow amusement, ski vacations, ski entertainment, ski tourism, ski parks, and ski re-sorts. Forward linkages refer to enterprises that use core enterprise products, such as those whose principal products include ice-and-snow services, ice-and-snow sports, ice- and-snow culture, and skiing. Backward linkages refer to enterprises that provide production materials for core enterprises, such as ice-and-snow equipment enterprises and ski equipment enterprises. Lastly, lateral linkages include enterprises or industries that provide technology, energy, or services for core enterprises (e.g., ski technology enterprises, the skiing industry).
Fig. 1 IST industrial chain

4 Empirical results

4.1 Evolution of IST

The development of China’s IST enterprises since 1985 can be divided into the early start-up phase, the gradual development phase, and the rapid growth phase (Fig. 2). IST started late in China, and its market-oriented development was based on opportunities related to recreational activities and sports projects. During the early start-up phase (1985-1996), only one or two new enterprises were added each year. In 1985, The Harbin International Ice-and-Snow Festival was established, which featured ice-and-snow sculptures and games and sports; it helped to spark IST development in China. In 1992, the former National Tourism Administration initiated the China Friendship Year, which served to officially launch IST in China. During the gradual development phase (1996-2013), there was a double-digit growth rate in the number of new enterprises. In 1996, with the success of the Third Asian Winter Games, the Yabuli Skiing Resort, which hosted the event, started to attract a large number of domestic and foreign tourists. After that, sports-based IST projects started to expand throughout China. By 2003, nearly 100 ski resorts had been built nationwide, and IST had become the preferred winter activity for most tourists. Finally, during the rapid growth phase (2014-2021), the number of new companies continued to grow. Although only 121 new IST companies were established in 2014, in 2017 alone, 362 new companies were established. Since then, the number of new IST companies established each year has been in the range of 300-400.
Fig. 2 Number of new IST enterprises during 1985-2021
China launched its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in 2013, which was approved in 2015. This brought new opportunities for IST development in China, and there was a sharp increase in the number of related enterprises. Since 2017, the growth rate of IST new enterprises has steadily remained above 100%.

4.2 Identification of IST industrial clusters

The kernel density chart (Fig. 3) shows that IST enterprises gradually formed six hotspot regions and spread outward from those core regions. In the 1980s and 1990s, relatively few new IST enterprises were established each year mainly in North China. Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and Northeast China were the first regions to form significant hotspot areas while an IST industrial cluster also started to form in Xinjiang. Entering the twenty-first century, industrial cluster hotspots had formed in six regions: Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, the Northeast, the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta, Chengdu-Chongqing, and Xinjiang. Since then, the scale of these hotspot areas has expanded continuously, forming two super-hotspots: the Northeast region and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei. Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei continues to exert the advantages of regional clustering, greatly promoting IST development in neighboring provinces such as Shanxi, Shandong, and Henan. By 2021, two super-hotspots and four core hotspots had been formed.
Fig. 3 Kernel density of IST enterprises during 1985-1996 (a), 1996-2013 (b), and 2013-2021 (c)
Under policy guidance and market demand, China’s IST has experienced more than 30 years of development, gradually forming six major industrial clusters. In the 1980s and 1990s, early IST enterprises were gradually established in the Northeast. At that time, enterprises mainly operated ice-and-snow sports facilities and provided equipment products. IST products were promoted in the market as complements of ice-and-snow sports and entertainment projects. Then, in the early twenty-first century, IST enterprises showed a spatial distribution trend, spreading from northern China to other regions nationwide. The establishment of several large ski resorts in Beijing during this period inaugurated a decade of intensive skiing activity in the Beijing market, and ski tourism began to develop. In terms of IST development, Northern China is mainly represented by Heilongjiang and Jilin Provinces. Beijing-Yanqing and Hebei-Zhangjiakou are the core areas of Olympics-related IST, and Xinjiang and other regions belong to the emerging IST growth belt.
IST in China is becoming increasingly tied to both national strategy and local socioeconomic development. In March 2016, President Xi noted that “ice and snow are also invaluable assets”, further promoting IST development. Subsequently, the government published various documents related to promoting ice-and-snow sports. Expanding to the south and west is among the key IST-related strategies.

4.3 Characteristics of IST industrial clusters

The 2022 Winter Olympics and the integration of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region both provide important guarantees for IST development in China. The IST industrial cluster in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is currently in the mature stage. In 2018, there were 481 ice rinks in China, of which 114 were in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, accounting for 23.7% of the total. In 2019, there were 770 ski resorts in China, including 99 in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, accounting for 12.9%. In addition, industry associations have promoted the sustainable development of industrial clusters by coordinating government and market relations. Among the 257 ice-and- snow sports associations in China, 182 are in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, with 175 concentrated in Hebei Province, further reflecting the advanced development of industrial clusters in that region. Overall, the Beijing-Tian jin-Hebei region has given full play to its geographical advantages, jointly developed an excursion route with IST theme, and implemented the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei IST project.
China’s three northeastern provinces have abundant ice-and-snow resources, and IST is becoming a pillar industry in the region. With the support of policy, the Northeast region has promoted the upgrading of the IST industry and the regulation of the market. With the establishment of the IST industrial cluster, the Northeast has integrated various ice-and-snow resources, rationally allocated and optimized resources, and reduced production and sales costs. It has also attracted more tourists through recommendations, increased income from tourism, enhanced the vitality of IST enterprises, and strengthened the competitiveness of the industry. At the same time, the region has also regulated the IST market and reduced the occurrence of negative events affecting its tourism image.
IST development in Xinjiang has unique conditions and is gradually becoming a pillar industry in the region. Compared with the Northeast, Xinjiang’s ice-and-snow resources are equally abundant but far less developed. Many obstacles hamper IST development in Xinjiang. For instance, IST is not deeply rooted in the local culture. Drastic seasonal changes and inadequate infrastructure are also weaknesses. Nevertheless, Xinjiang is the IST leader in China’s Midwest region, and its IST industry is currently in the growth phase.
IST has considerable potential in the Yangtze River Delta region. However, many problems remain to be solved. Even though its IST market has good policy dividends, a good investment environment, and strong consumption potential, the overall valuation environment is poor, and investor confidence is insufficient. As a result, there is low investment willingness in the capital market, resulting in insufficient supporting facilities and equipment manufacturing. Therefore, compared with relatively developed regions, in the Yangtze River Delta, IST services and industry profitability need to be optimized. IST in the Yangtze River Delta is therefore still in the cultivation stage.
Overall, IST has become a demonstration industry for promoting the 2022 Winter Olympics, showing enormous potential. In the southern region, IST development has ushered in unprecedented policy opportunities. Enthusiasm for IST in some southern provinces is gradually catching up with the north, especially in Guangdong and Sichuan. However, the late-starting IST industry with its weak infrastructure cannot meet the increasingly strong market demand. In recent years, with the support of policy, capital, and technology, some enterprises in the south have invested in building small and medium-sized ice-and-snow resorts and improving related service facilities to fill the gap in the southern IST market. The Pearl River Delta region and the Chengdu-Chongqing region have attracted social capital investment to expand the southern market, resulting in its IST industrial clusters entering the cultivation phase.

4.4 Internal structure of IST industrial clusters

The overall development of China’s IST industry is still at the preliminary stage, with different internal structures in each industrial cluster (Fig. 4). The internal system of IST industrial clusters is imperfect, and the structure of the industrial chain needs to be optimized. The number of core enterprises and forward linkages within the cluster is relatively large, and the distribution range is wide, while the number of backward linkages and lateral linkages is relatively small, and the distribution is relatively concentrated. There are more backward linkages and lateral linkages in the Pearl River Delta region. This reveals the unreasonable internal structure of some of China’s developed IST industrial clusters, such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Northeast region. With the surge in demand for IST and the related policy guidance, core enterprises are constantly added to the cluster, and the IST market is continuously expanding. However, the number and growth rate of backward and lateral linkages in the cluster are far less than those of core enterprises and forward linkage enterprises, resulting in an unreasonable structure between supply and demand in the cluster. There might also be an imbalance between supply and demand in the operation of the industrial chain within the cluster. Meanwhile, the IST industrial chain is relatively short. China’s IST industry is currently relatively mature in terms of scenic IST spots and venue construction. However, the number of backward and lateral linkage enterprises— such as those offering ice-and-snow equipment, clothing, and technology—is relatively small. The front end of the industrial chain must rely on a large volume of imports, and there is considerable room for improvement in many aspects of the industrial chain, such as ice-and-snow creative design, network marketing, entertainment, and shopping. Throughout China’s IST industrial chain, upstream manufacturing technology and innovation capacity levels are backward. Downstream service development is imperfect, and the added value of products is inadequately explored, resulting in a short industrial chain in the IST cluster.
Fig. 4 Spatial distribution of different types of IST enterprises
In addition, China’s IST industrial clusters tend to concentrate on a single industry, with various industries failing to become deeply integrated (Fig. 5). IST industries in developed countries have already broken through the traditional categories of tourism and the sports industry, forming a complete system that integrates equipment manufacturing, real estate, equipment and clothing, transportation and communication, entertainment and shopping, catering and accommodation, creative design, and publicity and training. IST enterprises mainly belong to the culture, sports, and entertainment industry; wholesale and retail industry; and leasing and business services industry. Transportation, catering, and accommodation have not been fully integrated into China’s IST industry development. This provides an internal impetus for the optimization and upgrading of the industrial structure. Meeting diversified IST consumption demand increasingly requires new business formats and products. Therefore, China’s IST industry needs to build a whole- process system to promote the integration of various business formats. Further, China has a relatively small number of IST-related enterprises in software and information technology services, scientific research, and technology services. Hence, there is a need for technical integration in China’s IST industry.
Fig. 5 Industry distribution of IST enterprises in China
Furthermore, the distribution of IST-cluster enterprises with different ownership types is differentiated under the influence of the market, resources, and policy. Foreign- owned IST enterprises are mainly located in the three main economic areas of the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, with Jiangsu, Beijing, and Guangdong as the main clustering areas. Multinational enterprises mainly consider their strategic layout based on market factors. Since foreign IST enterprises are more maturely developed, they focus more on industrial chain integration and industrial agglomeration, aiming to expand their market scale. With their economies becoming more open, the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei are strong in terms of economic development and consumer purchasing power, making them suitable for new markets and new product development. Most foreign-owned IST enterprises entered the Chinese market around 2015 when Beijing successfully bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Meanwhile, state-owned IST enterprises are mainly distributed in the Northeast, Xinjiang, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei while private enterprises are mainly distributed in the Northeast, with more than 40% of the national total in the three Northeastern provinces. Compared with large state-owned and foreign-owned enterprises, these small private enterprises have strong market adaptability, flexible mechanisms, and a focus on specialized market segments. However, they also often face resource constraints and environmental pushback, and their distribution is more constrained by factors such as cost and resources. Therefore, private IST businesses are often distributed in low-cost regions or the Northeast region with abundant IST resources.

4.5 Provincial evaluation of IST industrial clusters

In terms of the number of enterprises, Heilongjiang, Hebei, and Beijing occupy the top three in China, while Jilin, Shandong, Henan, Guangdong, and Xinjiang also have a high distribution of IST enterprises (Table 1). In terms of registered capital, Hebei, Beijing, and Heilongjiang are the top three, while Jilin, Liaoning, and Shandong are also relatively high, followed by Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, Chongqing, and the Yangtze River Delta region (Fig. 6).
Table 1 Development environment of IST in provincial regions
Province Core enterprise (pcs) Forward linkage enterprise (pcs) Backward linkage enterprise (pcs) Lateral linkage enterprise (pcs) Total enterprises (pcs) Total registered capital
(×104 yuan)
Average registered capital
(×104 yuan)
Development environment
Hebei 66 233 11 38 348 395068 1401 Mature stage
Beijing 30 90 13 57 190 240307 1350 Mature stage
Heilongjiang 228 108 11 23 370 193594 998 Mature stage
Shandong 41 36 10 34 121 116330 14918 Expasion stage
Liaoning 51 30 10 10 101 92977 1388 Expasion stage
Jilin 71 57 3 56 187 66179 643 Expasion stage
Jiangsu 12 17 0 15 44 52973 1232 Fast-growting stage
Henan 48 15 12 30 105 7935 156 Fast-growting stage
Shanxi 31 14 0 2 47 9652 483 Fast-growting stage
Hunan 9 5 0 8 22 43675 2730 Fast-growting stage
Guizhou 5 4 0 0 9 43327 6190 Fast-growting stage
Inner Mongolia 60 25 3 4 92 36158 7238 Fast-growting stage
Xinjiang 67 13 5 3 88 34359 1108 Fast-growting stage
Anhui 7 11 0 10 28 27251 1603 Fast-growting stage
Zhejiang 8 20 0 11 39 26992 900 Fast-growting stage
Gansu 10 8 0 3 21 30812 2370 Fast-growting stage
Hainan 1 7 0 16 24 22959 2551 Fast-growting stage
Guangdong 14 20 4 40 78 21015 323 Fast-growting stage
Fujian 1 8 0 4 13 19956 1535 Fast-growting stage
Sichuan 16 10 0 6 32 12800 533 Fast-growting stage
Chongqing 10 5 1 4 20 18810 1710 Fast-growting stage
Shaanxi 13 15 1 5 34 18129 1066 Fast-growting stage
Shanghai 2 7 0 4 13 13192 1099 Fast-growting stage
Hubei 13 15 1 7 36 10786 4908 Fast-growting stage
Tianjin 3 17 0 4 24 10764 598 Fast-growting stage
Guangxi 4 6 2 4 16 19403 1940 Fast-growting stage
Jiangxi 2 9 1 19 31 9420 393 Fast-growting stage
Yunnan 3 4 0 4 11 7173 897 Initial stage
Ningxia 10 10 0 10 30 6768 2948 Initial stage
Qinghai 4 4 0 0 8 5456 7798 Initial stage
Tibet 1 0 0 0 1 1000 1000 Initial stage
Total 841 823 88 431 2183 1615220 74007
Fig. 6 Number of IST enterprises (pcs) and total registered capital

4.5.1 Provincial regions in the mature stage

IST industry development in Hebei, Beijing, and Heilong jiang has reached the mature stage.
(1) Hebei. Zhangjiakou’s preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics have proceeded in accordance with the goals of sustainable development. During the 2017-2018 snow seasons, 8.6 million people participated in ice-and-snow sports in Hebei, an increase of 30.3% over the previous snow season. Further, the total number of ice-and-snow activities reached 217, an increase of 39.1% over the previous season. Following the successful bid for the Winter Olympics, Hebei also increased its economic investment in the ice-and-snow industry, optimizing its IST facilities, improving service levels, and promoting its IST industry development. For Hebei, it is of great practical significance to make full use of the spillover effects of the 2022 Winter Olympics on IST to accelerate IST industry development in Zhangjiakou and Chengde.
(2) Beijing. Beijing has taken the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area as a guide for putting forward new requirements for constructing IST in the region. In addition to hosting various types of IST activities, such as international ice-and-snow sports events, Beijing has also improved the IST system in the service clusters with more diverse and special IST themes.
(3) Heilongjiang. Heilongjiang has used tourism to promote supply-side structural reform. Thus, IST has gradually transformed into the core of its tertiary industry. With ongoing policy support and accelerated infrastructure investment, Heilongjiang’s IST industry has continued to expand. Tourism revenue accounted for more than 10% of its GDP, with an average annual growth rate of 1%. Heilongjiang also ranks first nationwide with 120 ski resorts and second in the total number of skiers. However, with a large number of ski resorts emerging in China, its unique ice-and-snow resource advantage is being weakened. In addition, Harbin’s failure to host the Winter Olympics challenged the development of the IST industry in Heilongjiang Province. Heilongjiang thus needs to accelerate the agglomeration of the IST industry, transform one-way competition into two-way cooperation through collaboration within regional clusters, and transition from product complementarity to service complementarity to create more opportunities for IST development.

4.5.2 Provincial regions in the expansion stage

IST industry development in Jilin, Shanxi, and Shandong provinces is currently in the expansion stage.
(1) Jilin: this is the major developing province in China’s IST industry. The local government has invested considerable human and material resources in its IST industry, promoting the construction of scenic IST spots and resorts. For example, Changchun is one of China’s top 10 cities for IST. To strengthen its IST industry, the Changchun Municipal Government has implemented various projects, creating favorable conditions for the industry. Jilin has thus become an increasingly important destination for IST, laying a foundation for further industry development.
(2) Shanxi: with its abundant ice-and-snow resources, Shanxi has established several ski resorts, such as Wanlong, Wolongshan, and Niuxinshan. Their supporting facilities give full consideration to transportation, entertainment, leisure, and other aspects. To develop IST, Shanxi has given full play to its geographic advantages and traffic conditions, relying on the coordinated development of Beijing-Tianjin- Hebei and the radiation effect of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
(3) Shandong: Northeast Shandong is close to Northeast China while northwest Shandong is next to Hebei Province. Its unique geographical location creates opportunities for IST industry development. The number of related enterprises is increasing, and IST industry development is in the expansion stage.

4.5.3 Provincial regions in the fast-growing stage

IST industry development in the Yangtze River Delta, Sichuan Province, and Guangdong Province is in the fast- growing stage.
(1) The Yangtze River Delta: since the ice-and-snow and tourism industries are both demand-oriented tertiary industries, industrial chain development largely depends on market demand. In 2019, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Hefei, and Wuxi entered the top 20 cities for IST. Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Nanjing ranked first, sixth, seventh, and eighth, respectively, among skiing enthusiasts. To accelerate their IST industry development, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Anhui should make full use of the IST consumer market by offering more convenient channels to capital and products.
(2) Sichuan: this has accelerated the construction of artificial ice-and-snow resorts in the areas around Chengdu while also building natural ice-and-snow sports resorts using the geographical advantages of the West Sichuan Plateau. It has not, however, achieved industrial synergy between natural and artificial ice-and-snow sites; thus, its IST industry has not developed on a large scale. The strength of Sichuan’s IST industry is still relatively weak compared to other provinces and cities with well-developed IST industries.
(3) Guangdong: although Guangdong Province is constrained by natural conditions, it has been the main force of IST consumption. Large-scale events, coupled with people’s strong interest in IST and their strong spending power, have prompted the rapid development of the IST industry. With IST undergoing rapid development in China, investors are gradually recognizing its huge potential. In this regard, the gradual maturation of ice-and-snow culture in Guangdong is laying a good foundation for IST industrial development.

4.5.4 Provincial regions in the initial stage

At present, the development of IST industry in Qinghai, Tibet, Ningxia and Yunnan is still in its initial stage. The national ice-and-snow sports development strategy has created an unprecedented strategic opportunity for further popularization and development of IST in the west.
Qinghai Province issued related policies to promote the popularization and development of IST by supporting large-scale events, introducing social capital injection, and co-organizing ice-and-snow activities with ice-and-snow enterprises. Tibet also began to focus on the development of IST by creating a comprehensive winter tourism brand. Ningxia, with IST as its main focus, has a number of ski resorts such as the Sand Lake Ski Resort, the Heilan Mountains Suyukou National Forest Park Ski Resort, and the Ningxia Xixia Style Park Ski Resort. For Yunnan, new ski resorts such as Huize International Ski Resort and Shilin Ice-and-Snow Ocean World have been established, while ice-and-snow museum in Tengchong Ice-and-Snow Town has begun to build. However, the ice-and-snow sports in these provincial regions started late. In addition to the weak economic foundation and the concept consciousness, there are many difficulties in their development. Therefore, it is necessary for these regions to correctly understand the root causes of their problems and seek the development path from the perspective of theory and practice. For example, the Tibetan Plateau, as a region with ice-and-snow resources in the western China, has outstanding resource advantages for ice-and-snow sports development. As a key component of the Tibetan Plateau, Qinghai Province can further improve its consciousness, deeply analyze the advantages and disadvantages of its ice-and-snow sports development, and fully utilize the ice-and-snow resources.

5 Discussion

5.1 Influencing factors of IST industrial clusters

5.1.1 External factors

IST industrial clusters reflect the development status and regional differences of China’s IST industry. The six major IST industrial clusters can be divided into three types according to their influencing factors: climate and ice-and- snow resource-endowment oriented, government-policy and sports-event driven, and economic-base and customer- market induced.
(1) Climate and ice-and-snow resource endowment- oriented type: unique geographical locations and climatic conditions have created snow resources. In areas with high latitude and low temperatures, snow is abundant and remains for a long time. This is conducive to the development of IST activities, thus promoting the development of IST enterprises and agglomeration. The Nordic countries, for example, have a good climate for IST. Their abundant precipitation and lower temperatures guarantee sufficient ice-and- snow resources each year, providing a material-resource guarantee for IST development (Gonseth et al., 2019). In China, winter and spring temperatures are relatively low in the IST industrial clusters in the Northeast and Xinjiang. Rainfall in these regions is above 600 mm, and with their heavy snowfall and long ski season, they are a veritable home for ice-and-snow activities in China (Wang et al., 2019). This extensive distribution of IST resources provides an important foundation for the region’s IST industrial cluster. These are the main reasons for the formation of super-hotspots in the Northeast and hotspots in Xinjiang.
(2) Government-policy and sports event-driven type: IST industry development is inseparable from policy support, which adds to the foundation of the IST industry (Chen, 2018). First, government policy support means that local governments provide funds, create a good business environment, and carry out promotion for IST (Zhang et al., 2018). Second, the IST industry cannot succeed without government-supported infrastructure construction. In Norway, for example, since 2015, the government has allocated at least 1 billion kroner per year to sports facilities, and most of the funds are invested in ice-and-snow facilities. Such financial support has been increasing annually, providing strong support for the sustainable growth and modernization of ice-and-snow facilities in Norway (Augestad et al., 2006). Finally, policy support also provides more professionals for IST industry development. IST in Sweden, for example, has benefited from strong support from the government, which regularly undertakes industry training, thus accumulating a large amount of talent to provide professional IST services, thereby promoting IST industry development (Landauer et al., 2012). Major sports events can also promote IST industry development.
They have huge linkage effects on promoting the host city’s socioeconomic development, which will affect the development of ice-and-snow sports projects, IST industry, ice-and-snow fitness and leisure industry, and stadium engineering and construction (Zhang, 2017). In addition, government-led major sporting events have been held to raise the profile of local IST. For example, the 2022 Winter Olympics have created great opportunities for IST industry development in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, and IST has become the brand of Zhangjiakou and Chongli, with the annual growth rate reaching 30.27% (Chen, 2018). Although IST resources in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region are not as good as those in Northeast China, sports events can promote the development of IST enterprises and the formation of industrial clusters.
(3) Economic-base and customer market-induced type: The differences between the economic base and the tourism market are mainly manifested in three aspects: regional economic development level, residents’ income level, and consumption level. At present, IST remains a high consumption activity for most domestic families. According to the China IST Development Report 2021, the per capita consumption of a single trip to an ice-and-snow destination was around 5000 yuan. Consumption ability and willingness to spend are the basis for IST development. Areas with a good economic foundation are more conducive to IST industry development, and those with high resident income and consumption levels are more likely to generate strong demand for IST, thus promoting the development of IST enterprises and regional agglomeration. The Yangtze River Delta, the Chengdu-Chongqing region, and the Pearl River Delta region do not have strong advantages in terms of ice-and-snow resource endowment. However, they have a complete set of industrial categories and abundant scientific and technological innovation resources, which provide a suitable foundation for IST industrial clustering. The high consumption levels of residents have contributed to a well-developed IST market, driving the development of clusters. Moreover, statistics from the 2018 Ice-and-Snow Industry White Study showed that the proportion of people in the south who traveled across provinces and abroad for IST was 58.75%, which was 23.11% higher than in the north. Strong market demand will push the supply system of the IST industry in these places to further optimize and upgrade to meet the personalized and diversified consumption needs of tourists and further promote the sustainable development of the IST industry.

5.1.2 Internal factors

Internal factors affecting the development of China’s IST industry clusters mainly include industry correlation and industry integration.
(1) Industrial correlation: IST industrial clustering is often driven by the core enterprises. This expands forward, backward, and lateral linkages, thus forming a complete industrial chain. From the upstream to the downstream of each link of the IST industrial chain to final consumption, the whole chain requires planning to better internalize industrial chain externalities (Xu, 2018). In IST industrial clusters, core enterprises are linked with forward and backward enterprises and lateral enterprises through the supply and demand of products, services, and technologies. As material and information exchanges increasingly take place between upstream and downstream IST enterprises, the degree of closeness between them has increased. There is a certain degree of contact between some enterprises in China’s IST industrial chain, which is prone to a more serious resource orientation, resulting in resource monopolies and market disconnection; certain enterprises also produce too many products regardless of cost, leading to a disconnect between sales and purchases (Zhao, 2014). This eventually leads to local imbalances in supply and demand in the industrial chain. In addition, in China’s IST industrial chain, upstream manufacturing technology and innovation capacity are backward, midstream operation and development are insufficient, and downstream service development is also insufficient; this results in the industrial chain being short (Sun et al., 2020). Moreover, the skiing supplies and equipment industry lags seriously behind. Snowsuits, snow equipment, helmets, and glasses are mainly imported from abroad. Snow machines such as snowcats, snowmakers, and magic carpets are also dependent on imports because domestic production and development are lacking in China (Li et al., 2018). At the front and side ends of the IST industrial chain, the skiing exhibition, competition, training, and Internet industries all need to be further developed.
(2) Industrial integration: The internal integration of the IST industry manifests as the integration of IST with different industries, such as ice-and-snow sports and ice-and- snow services. Further, enterprises integrate IST resources to achieve common development through resource sharing and interconnection. Ultimately, a composite regional industrial chain is realized to enhance IST value creation. At present, in China’s IST industrial chain, network information technology development is relatively backward in the industries of clothing, restaurants, accommodations, transportation, entertainment, and shopping. There are also gaps in the integration processes of different industries, which increases the difficulty of interindustry integration (Wu et al., 2018). The main mechanisms of IST industry integration mainly include the internal driving force of enterprises, pulling force of demand, driving force of technological innovation, and external environment of enterprise integration (Li et al., 2018). At the same time, the integration of science and technology, spatial integration, and social integration can extend the IST industrial chain and improve the added value of the IST industry (Yang, 2016). In terms of internal integration, it is also necessary to pay attention to the external environment of industrial integration, accurately grasp market demand, provide a good policy environment, and promote the technological innovation of enterprises.

5.2 Countermeasures for IST industrial cluster

IST has developed rapidly in recent years and continues to play a unique role in enhancing the popularity of destinations and increasing tourism income. The development of IST not only depends on ice-and-snow landscape resources, but also needs a series of IST enterprises to provide support. Since 1985, China’s IST enterprises began to develop gradually, and formed the IST industrial cluster. The formation of two super-hot spots and four hot spots shows the trend of IST industrial cluster in China. However, there is still potential for upgrading in China’s IST industry chain and industrial clusters. Based on this research, the paper puts forward the following suggestions for the optimization and development of China’s IST industrial clusters.
First, the regions should make full use of the resource endowment to develop IST industrial cluster. The government ought to take measures to make up for the existing deficiencies, and promote the optimization of IST industrial cluster development. For the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, it needs to give full play to the advantages of sports events, leading the development of national IST. For the northeast and Xinjiang, it needs to utilize the advantages of ice-and-snow resources and standardize the IST market. For other clusters, they should excavate the advantages of consumption potential, enhance the confidence of investors, and improve their physical infrastructure.
Second, the industrial clusters should improve the internal system and systematically optimize the structure of IST industry chain. They need to promote the division within the IST industrial cluster, and propel a coordination in the number of core enterprises, forward linkage enterprises, backward linkage enterprises and lateral linkage enterprises within the cluster. The governments should support the development of the front-end enterprises of cluster industry chain, constantly promote the innovation and creativity of the front and back-end enterprises, and extend the internal IST industry chain. In addition, improving the innovation ability of enterprises and IST industry chain is required.
Third, the regions should cultivate new forms of industry within the IST industrial cluster and promote the integrated development of various forms of industry within the cluster. They need to actively promote the integrated development of equipment manufacturing, accommodation and catering industry, creative design industry, education and training industry and IST enterprises within the IST industrial cluster. Moreover, the governments should give full play to the role of high-tech to promote the IST industry integration, including intra-industry integration and intra-regional integration.

6 Conclusions and prospects

6.1 Conclusions

This study analyzed the spatial differentiation and evolution of IST industrial clusters using data related to IST enterprises. The main conclusions were as follows:
(1) China’s IST enterprises were in the early start-up stage from 1985 to 1996, the gradual development stage from 1996 to 2013, and the rapid growth stage from 2014 to 2021.
(2) China initially formed six industrial cluster hotspots, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Northeast region, the Yangtze River Delta region, the Pearl River Delta region, the Chengdu-Chongqing region, and the Xinjiang region. Gradually, two superhot regions emerged in the Northeast and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area.
(3) The overall development of China’s IST industry is still in the initial stage. The internal system of IST industrial clusters is imperfect, and the industrial chain structure needs to be optimized. Various industry forms in the IST industrial clusters have failed to become deeply integrated.
(4) For provincial regions, Hebei, Beijing, and Heilongjiang are in the mature stage of IST industry development. IST development is currently in the expansion stage in Jilin, Shanxi, and Shandong. In the Yangtze River Delta region, Sichuan, and Guangdong, IST is in the fast-growing stage.
(5) IST industrial clustering was found to be affected by both internal and external factors. The external factors included three groups: climate and ice-and-snow resources, government policies and sports events, and economic fundamentals and market conditions. Internal factors included industrial association and industrial integration in the IST industrial cluster.

6.2 Prospects

IST industrial clusters reflect the scale and quality of IST industry development. This study identified China’s IST industrial clusters and, on that basis, proposed countermeasures for their optimal development. Nevertheless, this study had certain limitations. We mainly acquired enterprise data using keywords such as “ice-and-snow tourism” in their names. However, this could not capture other types of enterprises engaged in IST-related activities. Adding other relevant enterprise data could therefore be a direction for future research. Regarding the research content, this study mainly analyzed the development characteristics of IST industry clusters but did not investigate specific classifications of the IST industry in terms of development dynamics. Meanwhile, this study identified the internal and external factors affecting the development of IST industry clusters. However, we did not strictly or accurately delineate the influence mechanisms. Therefore, future research is needed on specific classifications of the IST industry and the causal relationship between enterprise development and industry cluster quality should be further verified.
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