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China-France winter sports cooperation gains momentum ahead o

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By Sportswriter Su Bin

PARIS, March 24 (Xinhua) -- With China gearing up for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, three-time hosts France expect to capitalize on opportunities to advance skiing and tourism development with the world's most populous country.

As POMA vice president of the board Fabien Felli put it: "The Chinese ski industry is a new and promsing market, and France can enjoy a lot of partnership opportunities with China."

POMA, a worldwide manufacturer for cable car solutions, has been involved in the Chinese market for almost 35 years with roughly 100 employees there.

"It's very important that we didn't wait for the Olympic Games to come to China," Felli pointed out. "I'm always afraid of a short-term solution. We are considering POMA as a long-term partner of Chinese industry."

That was echoed by Benoit Robert, director of Mountain Cluster, an organization providing guidance to French companies in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region to discover cooperation opportunities with their Chinese counterparts.

"The Winter Olympics will arrive very quickly. You cannot imagine how fast it is coming, so everything has to be done now," commented Robert.

Qi Hong, president of the board of the Thaiwoo Ski Resort located in Chongli, insisted that winter sports cooperation between China and France is set to step up as the 2022 Winter Olympics loom.

"Our foundation for development is different. They have already developed for more than a century, while we just kicked it off, meaning that they can offer us much help," Qi said. "Moreover, the Chinese skiing market may possess the most potential around the globe in terms of population size and natural conditions."

Cooperation is not limited to that between corporations. Mutual territory partnerships have enjoyed a boom in recent days as well, as the region of Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes and city of Chambery signed friendship agreements with respective counterparts, Hebei Province and the city of Zhangjiakou last November.

"We work on both institutional and business partnerships. They go together and make a good balance. The Territory is our best ambassador, as it's the territory that hosts big ski resorts, and the benefits of ski resorts go to these territories," Robert added.

For Robert, the Winter Olympics will push market development.

"We have huge mountain experience in France especially in big events," said Robert. "For us, big events like Winter Olympics already pushed the development of ski business, and offered opportunities to push mountain tourism development in the valley."

Felli emphasized that cooperation between France and China in ice and snow has to be a long-term goal, and not just limited to the Winter Olympics.

"The Winter Olympics is an amazing worldwide event, but normally it's around two weeks for the Olympics and two weeks for the Paralympics, a very short period of time. We have to consider the long-term development of ski resorts, which took many years in France," he said.

Noticing that "the Chinese market is going up," Robert also shed light on the significance of a long-term approach.

"A short-term vision doesn't work and will be bad. It's not a commercial success. Therefore, the most important thing is to create the market, and there are a lot of things to do," he observed.

The MND group started their business in China 15 years ago, offering snowmaking machines, ropeways and outdoor leisure activities. The group has a joint venture based in Zhangjiakou, one of the host cities for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

MND has witnessed their turnover from the Chinese market, which accounted for 2-3% several years ago, jump to 25% percent now. China became the group's largest market in term of size in 2018.

"China is an emerging and booming market for us," said MND's business development director Martin Francou. "We are happy with what we saw in the last few years, where Chinese and French governments have talked a lot how to develop some synergy."

Creating the skiing market requires a healthy culture around the sport. Earlier this year, famous resort brand Club Med partnered with a world renowned French Ski School to open its first ski academy in China, offering professional instruction to an increasing number of Chinese skiing lovers.

"The first time when I went to China more than ten years ago, it was considered an extreme sport," recalled Francou. "It's not really the case now. Chinese has realized that it's an activity that can be done safely by the general public."

Compagnie des Alpes (CDA) is an European leading company in site operation and equipment installation with a history spanning 30 years.

Jean-Marc Farini, the CDA's international projects director for mountain resorts, said that the company decided to increase its international footprint eight years ago as the volume of skiers in western Europe and the US is stagnating. China is one of the main reserves of new skiers in the world, in contrast.

For Francou, "there is always space for improvement, especially such a ski market born only a few years ago and really booming."

Farini added that China-France cooperation in winter sports "is always excellent and can be even better."

"French expertise in skiing is quite unique. The French model of development of ski industry is based on deep impact of state and government to promote the sport. We have a lot of similarities between what made France a success on the mountains and what we can see in China," he pointed out.

"The two models are wonderfully compatible, and I'm optimistic about it," Farini emphasized. "It takes quite a long time to get the benefit. We are not just interested in short-time results; we prefer to envisage long-term effects."

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