Tourism, big data industries take advantage of region’s frigid climate

Source:Xinhua Published: 2016-1-3 22:13:01

Heilongjiang Province, along with the rest of Northeast China, which for decades has been one of the country's major industrial bases, has been suffering from an economic downturn for years. Its heavy industry and real estate industries are all in decline. However, that doesn't mean the region's economy is frozen solid. The central government has taken a series of measures to revive Heilongjiang's economy, aiming to restore medium-to high-growth by the end of the decade. More importantly, the province has began a draw in new industries that see its frigid climate as an advantage to their businesses.

Tourists celebrate the New Year's Day on Thursday night at Harbin Ice and Snow World Park in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. The park attracted 1.3 million tourists last season. Photo: CFP

The bitter cold in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, powerful enough to cause frostbite, is heating up the economy of the frozen land.

Harbin's International Ice and Snow Festival, currently open in a soft launch, is drawing global tourists with its shimmering castles, huge towers and thrilling slides, all made of ice and snow.

Part of the largest winter festival in China, the frozen structures have been built in the provincial capital every winter since 1999, earning Harbin the title of "Ice City."

This park for this year's festival is its biggest ever, equal to the size of 112 football fields. A record 330,000 cubic meters of ice and snow were used.

"The main tower, 46.5 meters high, was built with 20,000 cubic meters of ice," said Wang Zengyu, deputy general manager of the park. "It might be the highest ice tower in the world."

A team of Chinese and Dutch designers spent three months landscaping the park, which was built by more than 10,000 workers. The result is one of the most attractive festivals to date, Wang said.

The time and energy put into the festival is a sign of the hope local authorities have for winter tourism, a bright spot in Heilongjiang's economy, which has been hobbled by a collapse in its energy and heavy industries.

Along with adjacent Jilin and Liaoning provinces, Heilongjiang has been a traditional industrial base for decades. From January to September in 2015, its economy grew by 5.5 percent, ranking third from the bottom among China's provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

However, the province's tourism revenues grew by 35 percent during the first three quarters in 2015.

Even better growth is expected for this winter, as the popularity of winter sports is predicted to grow following the announcement that Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Coming in for the cold

In addition to tourism, Heilongjiang's cold weather, with average January temperatures between minus 31 and minus 15 C, has created other business opportunities, such as the mass data storage.

Harbin is working to become a base for cloud computing, which allows users to store files in a remote data center, or "cloud," to enable access from any computer.

The city is attractive to cloud computing companies due to its cool climate, which has an average annual temperature of 3 C.

Low temperatures help save on the cost of the air conditioning required to keep massive banks of computers from overheating.

"According to our calculations, a data center here consumes 40 percent less electricity than in Southern or Southeastern China," said Tan Liyan, general manager of data service provider Gopha in Harbin's cloud computing industrial park. "We don't need compressors for refrigeration for eight months of the year."

More than 300 companies have moved into the industrial park, named "China Cloud Valley," since its launch in late 2010.Companies in the park have inked investment deals worth 31 billion yuan ($4.7 billion).

Testing grounds

Hundreds of kilometers away from Harbin, Heihe city has become the first choice for auto makers and auto parts suppliers to test their new products in the extreme cold, with roads and rivers frozen for more than 200 days a year.

Auto companies started coming to Heihe for testing in the 1980s and the local government began to provide services in 2006.

"We earned just over 100,000 yuan in our first year in 2006, now we have 20 testing grounds and are earning a lot more," said Zhao Xinhong, general manager of Honghegu, the largest vehicle testing service in Heihe city.

"Currently 80 percent of China's vehicle tests for cold regions are carried out in Heihe," Sun said.

Demand for the services has been booming despite an economic downturn. Chen Ying, a city official, said that 75 companies brought more than 1,300 vehicles to Heihe last winter.

"As the auto market has been cooling, we should spend more on research and development to win customers," said Deng Yongjun, an engineer with Chang'an Automobile based in Southwest China's Chongqing. Deng's team took 100 cars to Heihe last winter.

The economies of northeastern provinces, once China's industrial base, have slowed much more dramatically than the rest of the country, with slowdowns in heavy industry, chemicals and the real estate blamed for the sluggish growth.

The situation, however, is improving. During the first three quarters in 2015, Heilongjiang's GDP growth was 0.4 of a percentage point higher than in the first half of the year.

Liaoning's GDP grew 2.7 percent in the first three quarters, the lowest in the country, but higher than the 2.6 percent it reported in the first half of 2015.

Jilin's GDP expanded 6.3 percent, up from 6.1 percent during the first six months of the year.

Newspaper headline: NE China’s frozen economy thaws

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