Five years ago, Heiko Conze told Club China about the first steps of Ice-World International’s skating rink business in China. Half a decade later Ice-World International has grown much bigger and the ice rinks Heiko launches in China’s cities are becoming better and crazier than ever. Surprise: ice rinks are not just appearing in the northern parts of China. “We have built ice skating rinks in areas as far south as tropical Hainan Island!”
Five years after launching the business in China (see story on Club China), Ice-World International has grown a lot bigger. Business is going well and the Dutch company with a Beijing-based WFOE has opened a second office in Shanghai. More important: the number of projects has increased tremendously, and skating projects are becoming a well-known attraction in city parks and in and outside shopping centres. “Ice skating as an activity has become much more popular. The Chinese consumer has become aware of the attraction as a fun activity”, says Heiko Conze, Director International Partnerships of Ice-World International.
The growing popularity is showing in the growing number of official and permanent rinks. But Chinese entrepreneurs are increasingly aware of the business opportunities of establishing mobile rinks for a period of a few months during the winter season. “The market is definitely maturing. We have partners that translate their first profitable experiences with mobile ice rinks into new business adventures. They are actively scanning the market in China’s first tier cities for opportunities to operate a rink, preferably in areas where they can attract many potential customers. Second- and third-tier cities become increasingly interesting locations as well as the skating rinks there compete less with other attractions.”
Oriental Pearl Tower rink
At one of the recently opened venues, at the foot of Shanghai’s famous Oriental Pearl Tower, we can see the business case realtime. “Entrance tickets usually do not come cheap, but consumers are prepared to pay a price for a premium attraction. As most Chinese are not very skilled skaters, a venue like this should provide helmets and skating aids. Rink operators that lease the facilities from Ice-World International should also be aware that, partly as a result of China’s one-child-policy, parents are very protective of their only child. Safety comes first, the helmets are a necessity to commercially run a rink with a chance of success.
Increased popularity of winter sports
Over the first five years, Conze has seen the opportunities for these commercial rinks improve. “I see a clear connection with the successful bid of Beijing to host the Winter Olympics of 2022, that has increased the popularity of winter sports. Moreover, winter sports are part of the promotional efforts of local, regional and national governments to promote skating and other sports as healthy activities. Sometimes, that can have a positive impact on business, when a permit for building a semi-permanent rink is pushed through the approval process extra quickly. I also noticed that some governments are prepared to offer incentives and subsidies to a business that files a plan to run an ice skating rink.”
As skating is becoming more popular and as the business is maturing, old boundaries have been crossed. Thanks to the innovative Ice-World system skating is no longer limited to the colder north of the country and one can find ice rinks far south from cities such as Shanghai. “ A few years ago, we have even built a project as southern as the tropical island of Hainan”, Heiko Conze adds.
Bigger, better, crazier
Meanwhile, Ice-World International’s Chinese operating partners are stepping up their game. “They want it bigger, better and crazier, while offering more fun. A rink does not necessarily have the size of an ice hockey venue and skating track is not necessarily have the traditional length of 400 meters. We build longer tracks that don’t go in a straight line and sometimes go up and down over longer, cross-country stretches. Other than skating, operators want to offer different activities, such as curling.” The innovations Conze and his team launch in other, more mature markets like Switzerland, attract the attention of operators that are building the industry in China. “Skating is definitely taking off in China – especially in large city venues that are operated commercially. The start of our business was a cautious one, but as a market leader, we are now ready for strong growth”, Conze adds.