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'City of Ice' advice sought

Updated : 2014-12-23

By Niu Yue ( chinadaily.com.cn )

Betsy Hodges, the mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota, will visit China next month for advice on developing tourism in cold weather.

Hodges, together with several other officials and business representatives, will visit Harbin, capital of northeastern China's Heilongjiang province, which shares a similar latitude with Minneapolis. Harbin has been a sister city to Minneapolis since 1992 and is nicknamed "the City of Ice" in China, given the temperature is often as low as -20 Fahrenheit in winter.

Minneapolis has sister city partnerships with 12 cities globally, and Harbin is the first city the mayor will visit since taking office earlier this year.

Hodges' delegation will study Harbin, seeking to boost tourism in the first three months of a year, a time usually hard for tourism businesses in Minneapolis.

"We do have snow," said Ben Hecker, deputy chief of staff at the mayor's office. "We enjoy that, and we are used to it, but we want visitors to come and visit us during that period."

Harbin has turned its frigid weather into a tourism sensation. The annual Harbin Ice Festival, which will last from Jan 5 to Feb 25, features snow and ice sculptures, winter sports and other celebrations. The festival now attracts more than 10 million visitors a year.

Around 28.5 million people visited the city for the festival in 2012 and 2013. Ice and snow works from Harbin also have been shown in Hong Kong and the United States.

"Thousands of artists collaborate for months to create it (the Ice Festival)," said Kun Lu, US president of the VYA Ice Carving Team from China. "It is very rare to find so many skilled artisans in any place in the world."

"Artists centralized in the city of Harbin started carving as early as in elementary school and continue learning from old, experienced masters to become career carving artists," Lu said.

VYA helped to present a 29-sculpture show in Houston in November.

Minneapolis does have some winter events, including an annual ski competition, and its twin city St. Paul has a similar annual winter carnival to Harbin, but neither is on the same scale as those in Harbin.

"We can take some of the ideas and adopt them in Minneapolis," Hecker said. "Maybe in the future, you will watch a large ice sculpture competition in Minneapolis."

Hodges' itinerary has not been finalized, but the delegation is expected to meet local Harbin leaders Harbin and see the Ice Festival. The delegates will also attend a "Cold Zone Expo" in Harbin, for trading among cold-climate-related businesses. A forum for leaders of cold-climate cities also will take place.

The US-China Peoples Friendship Association, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to build friendships between the US and China, helped in planning the trip.

Ralph Beha, a board member of the association's Minnesota chapter, told China Daily that the exchanges between Minneapolis and Harbin have not borne many "tangible fruits", as most of the exchange activities are cultural and do not have immediate impact. "But I would describe it as growing," said Beha.

Agricultural companies in the US Midwest, including Minneapolis-based Cargill, have a presence in Harbin and its surrounding areas.

"I would expect, given the strong science and technology factor in Harbin, there is a good [match] with Minneapolis," he said.

Apart from cold weather, Harbin and Heilongjiang province are also known as a center of China's grain production and machinery.

 

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