Sunday, January 6, 2013


Attracting Chinese Immigrants to the Ski Slopes of Canada

The following is an executive summary of research conducted in Canada between 2009 and 2011, and published in the Journal of Sport Tourism and Leisure Sciences. The full references to the articles are below, and a copy of the full papers can be obtained by emailing The research was supported by a grant to the lead author from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Hudson, S., Walker, G. J., Hinch, T., & Simpson, B. (2013 forthcoming) “The Influence of Ethnicity and Self-Construal on Leisure Constraints.” Leisure Sciences, 35(2).

Hudson, S., Hinch, T., Walker, G. J., & Simpson, B. (2010) “Constraints to Sport Tourism: A Cross-Cultural Analysis.” Journal of Sport Tourism, 15(1), 71-88.

The research examined the effects of ethnicity on constraints to a popular leisure activity—downhill skiing—an activity that is struggling to attract ethnic minority group members in North America. A new leisure constraints model guided the study, a framework that recognizes the importance of macro- (i.e., ethnicity) and micro-level (i.e., participation, self-construal) variables on the traditional concepts of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and structural constraints. Previous research suggests that people confront intrapersonal constraints (e.g., personality needs, perceived reference group attitudes), interpersonal constraints (i.e., barriers that arise as a result of social interaction) and structural constraints (e.g., perceived lack of time or money), in a hierarchical order.

The model was applied to downhill skiing as it is a classic Western leisure activity and responsible for major international and domestic travel flows throughout much of Europe and North America. This industry is, however, facing challenging times. Both the participation rate and the size of the Canadian skier and boarder market have declined since peaking in 2001. Further, the gradually declining number of active participants are skiing and riding fewer days per season. The minority market has incredible potential as it represents one third of the millennium generation in North America (age 12 to 17) and 45% of those aged five and younger are a member of a racial or ethnic minority. However, despite the growth in Chinese-Canadian skiers in Canada, only about 10% of Chinese-Canadians have tried the sport, compared to 15% of Canadians in general. Thus, from an industry perspective, the ski industry would benefit from a better understanding of the constraints facing existing and potential skiers/boarders, especially those from minority ethnic backgrounds who increasingly form a larger percentage of the Canadian population.

To address the research questions, a survey was developed based on previous literature and the results from an in-depth qualitative study. The qualitative research showed that Anglo-Canadians were more constrained by structural constraints (time and money) whereas the Chinese-Canadian respondents were constrained by the lack of friends to ski with, a lack of information on the sport, language barriers, and a higher priority for non-leisure activities such as studying. This supports previous research suggesting that Chinese people place a greater emphasis on higher education and a strong work ethic than on leisure. However, they did express a desire to ‘experience the Canadian lifestyle’ and would therefore like to participate if only to ‘fit in’ with the Canadian lifestyle.

The survey itself was administered online, and was available in both English and Chinese. An incentive to complete the survey was offered in the form of a chance to win a four-day skiing holiday provided by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. Four specific sub-groups were sampled: current participants of Chinese-Canadian and Anglo-Canadian ethnicity, and Chinese- and Anglo-Canadians who have never participated in skiing or snowboarding. In total, 822 respondents took part, 373 Anglo-Canadians, and 449 Chinese-Canadians; 433 of respondents were participants, while 389 had never skied or snowboarded.

Structural constraints were reported as the highest barriers to participation for all groups, followed by intrapersonal and then interpersonal constraints. Not surprisingly, participants reported significantly lower levels of all three types of constraint compared with non-participants. Expense was consistently reported as an important structural constraint across groups. . Ethnicity was found to play a significant role regardless of whether the person did or did not ski; manifesting in Chinese-Canadians reporting significantly higher levels of all three types of constraint compared with Anglo-Canadians. Apart from the expense, Chinese-Canadian non-participants were highly constrained by a fear of personal injury and concern that skiing is a dangerous sport.  They were also notably constrained by perceived language barriers that they might encounter, and by difficulties in finding others to participate with.  In general, and comparatively to Anglo-Canadian non-participants, Chinese-Canadian non-participants felt that they lacked information about how to go skiing, and held perceptions that skiing would be a difficult sport to learn and that much work is involved in planning to go skiing.

The results of this study offer a number of important practical implications, particularly providing unique insight as to what is constraining Chinese-Canadians from participating in skiing and snowboarding. The growing ethnic population poses a challenge for North American winter resorts, which have not traditionally succeeded in appealing to minority markets. Chinese-Canadians may be more persuaded to participate with marketing emphasis on the provision of a safe, comfortable learning environment with few language barriers. Canadian ski areas may wish to follow the example of some Colorado resorts that have increased their frontline minority hiring. Employing Chinese-speaking ski instructors, for instance, would alleviate some of the concerns of non-participants of Chinese origin. Similarly, having information and education materials (brochures, maps, etc.) available in Chinese would also be helpful to address the perceived lack of information available about the sports and perceived difficulty in planning to go skiing. Finally, given the importance of friends for Chinese-Canadians trying to negotiate constraints, special introductory “buddy” rates (for example, two-for-one specials) may be worth considering as a motivation to try the sport.

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