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Outdoor firms enjoying profitable adventure in China

Wu Yiyao
Updated: Aug 24,2015 8:24 AM     China Daily

Equipment makers have benefited from the rising popularity of outdoor activities. The industry grew 11.28 percent year-on-year in 2014 to to 20.1 billion yuan ($3.2 billion).[Photo provided to China Daily]

When Wang Hengxuan posted a photo from his recent hiking trip in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province on WeChat, China’s most popular social network, he received some 100 likes, a figure that is about thrice what he normally gets for other types of images. Within a fortnight, close to 10 of his friends started posting similar pictures from the same location, and this number keeps increasing.

“Many of my friends had left comments saying that the place looks so cool and asked me for information and trip advice. Despite the temperatures getting higher and higher this summer, they’ve been flocking to the same site to participate in outdoor activities over the weekends,” said the 28-year-old sales manager who is based in Shanghai.

“Engaging in outdoor activities is a trend now-it looks cool and once you have mastered the essential skills, you can spend your weekends doing something really different from the usual stuff such as dining out or watching a film. It’s a totally new world,” added Wang.

Outdoor activities such as hiking and camping are no longer an adventure for only a small group of people. Nowadays, more youngsters from big cities are joining in as well.[Photo provided to China Daily]

The outdoor activities business is now a $10-billion market in China that sees double digit growth every year, according to data by event management company APAX Group.

“Outdoor activities are no longer a niche market that meets the demands of a small group of people. It is now a part of mass entertainment and the lifestyle industry,” said Terence Chu, the managing director of APAX Group.

Television programs and documentaries such as those on Discovery Channel have been integral in creating a travel bug-awareness and curiosity about the great outdoors-while social media applications like WeChat and Weibo have been responsible for spreading it among users.

Evidently, outdoor equipment makers have already begun benefitting from the popularizing of outdoor activities-the sector grew 11.28 percent year-on-year in 2014 to 20.1 billion yuan ($3.2 billion), according to data by COCA, an association for outdoor equipment makers in China.

“Outdoor activities may help a city or town to leverage more resources and drive economic growth, because more participation will bring about more consumption,” said Wang Qinying, governor of Deqing county, an outdoor activity hub in Zhejiang province which is only three hours’ driving from Shanghai.

According to a circular by China’s State Council, the sports industry-which outdoor activities fall under-will expand to 5 trillion yuan by 2025. Currently, the sports industry contributes some 0.6 percent to China’s economic growth, compared to the 2 percent in developed countries, demonstrating that there is still much room for the industry to grow, according to a report by People’s Daily.

“We believe that China’s outdoor activities market is a blue ocean, and it is expanding at a fast pace,” said COCA’s latest annual report.

Capitalizing on this potential is Discovery Consumer Products, the licensing arm of Discovery Communications. The American global mass media company recently announced its partnership with APAX Group to bring the world’s first Discovery adventure park to China’s Moganshan in Deqing county, a scenic mountainous area that has become a popular weekend getaway destination for those living in Shanghai.

The 400-million-yuan park will serve as an adventure destination that integrates extreme sports, tourism and hospitality, and will feature China’s largest rock climbing wall, zip-lines, ATV tours, mountain bike courses, hiking routes and obstacle challenges for participants as young as eight years old.

“With the government’s continuous efforts in supporting the sports industry, it is the right time now to begin this project to meet the booming market demands for outdoor activities,” said Chu, on his company’s partnership with Discovery Communications.

There are currently more than 20 outdoor adventure parks-some of which are home to biking, trekking and rocking-climbing clubs-that are running in Shanghai and Zhejiang.

Sun Haibing, a physical education expert and athlete who once rowed a boat across the Atlantic, is the owner of one such club, and he can personally attest to the major growth of the outdoor activities market in the past decade.

“About 10 years ago I attempted to start a business focusing on outdoor activities such as teaching teenagers how to kayak or ride a bike in the mountains, but I did not succeed because there was a lack of awareness and passion for outdoor activities,” said Sun, who added that such activities then were deemed to be “dangerous” and “suitable only for professional athletes”.

But the scenes every weekend at Kayak Bike Run, the outdoor activities club that he opened in suburban Beijing in 2014, tells a very different story these days.

“Every weekend, about 200 teenagers come to the park. The market is booming. I don’t even need to advertise about the programs I have-those who have participated in my activities soon tell their friends about it and they bring more participants the following weekend,” said Sun.

Getting ready for outdoor activities

While outdoor activities can be exhilarating, there is always a danger factor that participants must be mindful of. The China Mountaineering Association reported that there were 63 deaths in the country related to outdoor sports activities in 2014, while even more people were injured due to inadequate preparation and protection.

Timothy Tsang and Ken Chew, two certified trainers from Hong Kong, provide tips on making outdoor activities safe and fun:

People

Make sure that you know the background of the person who will be leading the activities or the trip. How skilled is he? Does he have certification or a track record to show? Does he have operating procedures?

Also, find out about the other participants who are joining the trip and assess the experienced to inexperienced ratio. Ask yourself if you are proficient enough for the activity. If you doubt that you can perform the tasks without risk, do not attempt it-sometimes in life, you don’t get a second chance.

Place

Know the place you are going to and look for past travel reviews by others who have been there. Pay close attention to the weather forecast, especially rain and lightning risks. For water-based activities, avoid going during the raining season as the rise in water levels could result in flash floods and the strength of the undercurrents could prove disastrous.

Equipment

Know what you need and bring only what you know how to use for the trip. Practice using new equipment before a trip to find out if it suits your needs. Make sure that the settings for your equipment are all ready so you won’t fumble when you need them. Be sure not to bring along too much equipment either as this can become unnecessary dead weight that someone might have to share with you. The guiding principle is to put everything you want (not need) on the table and only bring half of it.

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