Outdoor sports bring China’s younger generation back to nature

Outdoor sports bring China’s younger generation back to nature

  02 Jan 2024

Throughout 2023, whether in online or offline discussions, outdoor sports undoubtedly emerged as one of the most frequently mentioned topics in conversations among young Chinese.

According to an industry development report on China’s outdoor sports released in October, individuals born in the 1990s have become the largest consumer group participating in outdoor sports, accounting for 36.1 percent. They are followed by those born in the 1980s with a share of 32.5 percent.

The report also revealed a year-on-year increase of 79 percent in outdoor sports-related orders in the first half of 2023, and a surge of 221 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

On Chinese lifestyle-sharing platforms such as Xiaohongshu and Weibo, numerous daily posts share diverse experiences related to outdoor sports. These range from high-intensity activities like sailing and off-roading to more laid-back ones such as camping and city walks, with ice and snow sports taking the spotlight in winter.

Though not the most well-known ski resort in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the Tianshan Tianchi international ski resort in Fukang City recently hosted over 2,000 visitors daily, gaining popularity due to its relatively mild temperatures and the rich tourist resources nearby, according to its marketing director.

Traveling all the way from south China’s Guangdong Province, Li Peiling, 32, said that it was her first visit to Xinjiang, and that she came to the resort after hearing about it on a live stream.

To cater to the need for better outdoor sports experiences, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has actively promoted new tourism products in 2023, many of which feature outdoor experiences such as camping, ice and snow, and others.

Meanwhile, departments including the National Development and Reform Commission and the General Administration of Sport of China issued an action plan outlining measures for promoting the facilities and enhancing services for outdoor sports from 2023 to 2025. This plan demanded optimizing the layout of ice and snow sports facilities and improving facilities for camping and mountainous outdoor sports.

Also highlighted in the action plan are efforts to strengthen outdoor sports facilities that are closer to the public. This includes establishing trails for brisk walking and constructing parks that provide sports facilities, enabling the public to integrate outdoor activities into their daily lives.

According to a 2022 annual report on China’s cycling industry, individuals aged between 18 and 40 constitute nearly 60 percent of China’s cycling demographic. Moreover, the percentage of cyclists with less than one year of experience has increased from 5.58 percent in 2021 to 11.33 percent in 2022, indicating a trend that more novice enthusiasts are joining the cycling community.

The growing popularity of activities like running and cycling signifies the development of China’s infrastructure for sports, which provides more space for outdoor activities, said Huang Jin with the General Administration of Sport of China.

Huang noted that in the past, outdoor sports were usually characterized by extreme or near-extreme elements, but there is now a shift toward leisure and enjoyable activities.

This transformation has enabled outdoor sports to become a platform for social interactions among young people.

“To me, outdoor sports are not just about staying active; they’re also a way to meet new friends. Being out in the open, surrounded by nature’s wide spaces, just makes connecting with people a lot easier,” said Gong Yifei, 27, who works at an internet company based in Beijing.

She has joined outdoor sports groups on multiple platforms, where she can chat about the latest trends and hang out with people who share similar interests, be it fishing, hiking, or horseback riding.

Young parents also view outdoor sports as activities that strengthen family bonds. According to statistics from Mafengwo, a travel service and social networking platform, families accounted for the highest proportion, or 38.3 percent, among those participating in outdoor sports with companions in 2022.

As outdoor sports gradually evolve into a lifestyle of Chinese people, especially the younger generation, the industry is poised for further growth in the years to come. According to the action plan, the industry’s value is targeted to hit 3 trillion yuan ($422.5 billion) by 2025.

“The development of outdoor sports has transformed ‘going outside’ into a lifestyle that encapsulates people’s commitment to health, pursuit of freedom, and yearning for spiritual solace,” said Huang.

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