Social media chatter helps draw 3 million tourists in 3 days to a frigid city in northern China

For many Chinese, Harbin conjures images of ice and steel, a city both cold and tough.

But this winter, the heavily industrialized city morphed into a warmly welcoming host, drawing in a record-breaking number of visitors, mainly from China’s south.

During the three-day New Year period from Dec. 30 to Jan. 1, Harbin received more than three million tourist visits, a common tourism measurement in China, bringing in tourism revenues of some 5.914 billion Chinese yuan ($830 million), according to the Harbin Cultural Broadcasting and Tourism Bureau.

Where the ‘tourist is god’

Nicknames of affection

Big crowds, long lines

The opening day of the Harbin Ice and Snow World, a part of the larger festival, on Dec. 18 drew more than 40,000 visitors.

Because of the overwhelming turnout, many of the park’s attractions required queuing for several hours. The most popular attraction giant slide required waiting in line for approximately five to six hours.

Some attendees at Harbin’s 2024 festivities complained about long lines.

Source: Yuetong Jiang

Several visitors expressed their dissatisfaction online, noting the discomfort of waiting in temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius, prompting some to demand refunds for their tickets.

Harbin’s government quickly apologized in a published letter, vowing to improve waiting times, though several travelers told CNBC that long lines are still a problem.

Yuetong Jiang said that during her mid-January visit to the Ice and Snow World park, average waiting times were two to three hours per attraction, with the temperatures fluctuating between 4 and 24 degrees Celsius.

“You can’t even take your hands out of your coat to snap a photo or scroll through your phone because of the extreme cold,” she said.

Harbin Ice and Snow World, at night.

Andrea Verdelli | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Jiang said she was concerned the waiting time may not be worth it, but after her trips she said the time spent in line was justified.

“The wait for the two attractions felt quick in retrospect, and there was a sense of happiness when they ended, as if the memory of queuing had been cast aside,” she said

Zhang, however, was turned off by the long lines she saw online. So she decided to visit a different ice festival in the nearby city of Changchun, in China’s Jilin province.

“I spent roughly 10 minutes in line for the most popular giant slide attraction and ended up going on it three times,” said Zhang.

The draw of domestic vacations

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