China Travel Interview: Nordic Ways MD Niclas Hellqvist on sports, travel and adventure in China

Travel | by Aimee Groom
Posted: August 20th, 2010 | Updated: August 20th, 2010 | Comments
Niclas Helqvist, Nordic Ways GM The leading sports events company in China, Nordic Ways brings people together from China and beyond to bike, swim, run and ski in some of the most stunning locations on the planet. The Huangshan Mountain Bike Festival, The Genghis Khan Grassland Extreme Marathon, Vasaloppet China and the Vasa Swim Festival are just a few of their blood-pumping, adrenalin-fueled competitions with an adventurous flavor that are drawing international and local sportsmen and women, and valuable awareness, to regions across China. We talked to MD Niclas Hellqvist to find out more>>> China Travel: How long has Nordic Ways been established, and why was China chosen as the location to develop the company? Nordic Ways have been present as a company in China since 1998 even though we have experience of arranging events in China even before that. The reason for coming to China was that we had the opportunity to promote a new form of Orienteering, park orienteering to the universities and companies in China. Park orienteering is an excellent and easy sport that easily can be done in any city with a park. In the beginning years we also did a lot of company related events, mainly with Scandinavian companies present in China. China Travel: By the nature of the events you put on, you have to work very closely with local governments. What is their initial response when you contact them and how do they see the benefits of the events to their region? Have you ever encountered any issues? There is certainly an increasing awareness about sports and healthy living in China today compared to when we entered the market. Various governments have realized the benefits of having active citizens and arranging events and festivals around the concept of sports. In addition to the obvious health benefits, our events also put the cities on the world map creating awareness and an image of the city that attract international tourists to visit the cities. You could say that the events create post cards of the actual city. China Travel: What is the percentage of locals versus foreigners in your events? Do certain events attract one group more than the other? How do you market the event to both groups? It depends on the events. Most of our events with many thousands of participants will naturally attract mostly Chinese participants as the events are in China. For some smaller and specific events, we have had events attracting more than 50% foreigners participating. Chinese groups are easier to access, mainly through online media such as different active forums and bike clubs/shops all over china, ads in some bike related media. For the foreign market, we attend big international events fairs, both in China and mostly in Europe, cooperate with English media in China, and send out newsletters to our own database monthly. Nordic Ways MTB Challenge, Xiwuqi Innner Mongolia China Travel: Cycling in China has traditionally been seen as a mode of transport rather than a sports or leisure activity. Many of your events involve cycling and they're getting bigger by the year - what do you think is spurring this growth in popularity? Did the Olympics have a big impact? The Olympics certainly had a big impact on the overall public interest towards sport, exercising and healthy living. This has certainly helped in getting participants to the events organized by us and others and also to the many gyms in the cities. We believe that another contributing fact is the increased standard of living in general with increased discretionary spending and more time for leisure activities. Today many people realize that a nice bike is not only a mode of transport but rather a great and fun way of keeping fit and healthy. China Travel: Your events also involve running, swimming, and skiing as well as cycling - which area is seeing the most growth in China at present, which the least and why? We believe and already see that running will grow very fast in China. Running is easy and has few limitations. It is very easy for anyone to run and participate in running events as you will not need a lot of equipment. With a pair of comfortable shoes you are set to go and you always have the arena for exercising outside your own door. Nordic Ways Ghenghis Khan MTB Challenge, Xiwuqi China Travel: Nordic Ways events let participants experience destinations and the local culture in a very unique way - what response do you get from the local people and what impact do the events on them? The local people are very proud of and keen on showing their local culture to the event participants in a very friendly way. Some of the event participants might even be kind of exotic to the local people. The events certainly have a positive impact on the local people as they bring participants and their friends to the local peoples' village. China Travel: Tell us about your new initiative with Changchun, "the Chinese Challenge." Will both amateur and professional athletes take part? Most of our events are open to both amateurs and professionals, depending on sports and actual event. Some events like Tour De Ski China and Summer Ski Tour China are basically only for professional athletes while most other events include both professionals and amateurs. The overall idea with the Chinese Challenge is that participants will have a series of 4 events including biking, swimming, skiing and running. In order to conclude the whole Chinese Challenge you need to finish all the 4 races within 1 year. By doing so you will also have an incentive to exercise the whole year round and doing different sports. The large majority of participants that will finish the whole Challenge will be amateurs. China Travel: How do you see the future of sports tourism developing in China for both domestic and inbound markets? We are convinced that the sports tourism industry will develop tremendously and that we have only seen the start here in China. The consciousness of healthy living and the eagerness for fun and adventure will drive the development. Nordic Ways Vasoloppet china China Travel: With all the events that you run in different locations and with so many people involved, there must be have been some funny, touching or just downright weird moments. Any good stories to tell? Yes, sure, we have a lot of stories to tell. When we had our first Vasaloppet China in 2003, we prepared the tracks and everything. One day before the event, the track was somehow destroyed by heavy wind, the stones under the snow were exposed in many parts. Back in hotel, the skiers and guests were warmly welcomed and prepared for the next day’s competition. If the track was not ready then wouldn’t be any race! At the time Mr.Gong Wenbin, the GM of the Jingyuetan Park ( the race venue), promised "no worry, we’ll fix it." Then they called on 500 staff, worked over night using small wagons to transport the snow and paved the track by shovels. The next day, the race was on schedule, not a minute late which was a miracle indeed, only possible in China. More adventure travel content on China Travel: China Travel interview: Mary Gadams, the woman behind RacingThePlanet's Gobi March Biking in Inner Mongolia: The Nordic Ways Genghis Khan Mountain Bike Challenge China's Great Wall Marathon: Feel the Love Rad Star Over China: China's best snowboarding spots
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