* Programme aims to get more Chinese visitors skiing
* Stays by Chinese in ski areas expected to double
* Young Chinese attracted to ski lifestyle, instructor says
By Ruben Sprich
GRINDELWALD, Switzerland, Jan 9 China's wealthy
have long flocked to Switzerland for the watches, chocolate and
scenery. Now the Alpine country is marketing another national
symbol to the Chinese - skiing.
Switzerland is training eight Chinese ski instructors and
placing them in St. Moritz, Davos, Zermatt, Gstaad and other
resorts for the ski season to teach Chinese tourists, in their
own language and with Chinese savoir faire.
With the number of winter overnight stays from Chinese
travellers in mountainous regions expected to double by 2017,
the Swiss Tourism office said it hoped the instructors would
help make Swiss pistes more appealing to Chinese tourists.
In the resort of Grindelwald, 26-year-old Xu Zhongxing, one
of the instructors taking part in the programme, said the winter
sport was gaining in popularity among affluent Chinese.
"In China, we play cards or mahjong in winter, but more and
more people want to do outdoor sports and are discovering
skiing," Xu told Reuters. "The lifestyle - the clothes, the
accessories - are also very fashionable among younger people."
With its alpine resorts and luxury shopping options,
Switzerland is already a favoured destination for Asian
visitors, who tend to stay longer and spend more than their
Swiss tourism officials hope the Swiss-schooled Chinese ski
teachers will, back home, become ambassadors for Switzerland's
winter tourism industry.
Xu said his home, Chongli County, which is three hours from
Beijing, already has four ski resorts in operation and is
planning to construct a few more.
The training programme should show Chinese visitors there is
more to Switzerland than the chocolate, Xu said.
"Here in Grindelwald, after Christmas day, it seemed
everybody went out to ski or snowboard or do other sports," Xu
said, adding he saw children as young as young as two learning
to ski. "These kinds of things really moved me. It's not just
winter sports, it's your culture here."
(Additional reporting by Katharina Bart and Denis Balibouse;
writing by Alice Baghdjian; Editing by Michael Roddy and Larry