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Marathons offer new catalyst for cultural tourism development

By Wu Jie Source:Global Times 2024-04-08

This spring, cities across China have seen the number of marathons skyrocket.

About 40 marathon events took place in China during the last weekend of March, with more events slated in April to escalate the road running craze. Both the Wuxi Marathon in East China's Jiangsu Province and the Wuhan Marathon in Central China's Hubei Province have set new records with registration numbers of over 260,000 people. 

While professional athletes push their limits and amateur participants pursue physical fitness, the fervor of marathon events has largely spurred the economies around the host cities, offering a fresh catalyst to local development in both culture and tourism.

Whether it is in large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, or in smaller cities such as Wuxi and Pu'er in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, the prosperity of running events reflect people's constantly growing desire for health and the change of social consumption concepts as marathons have become a driving force to enhance a city's image.

According to the 2023 Blue Book of China Road Running Events released by the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) on March 22, a total of 699 road running events were held nationwide in 2023, with over 6 million participants. 

As of the end of 2023, the cumulative number of finishers in full marathon events reached 641,700, an increase of 142,700 compared to that in 2022. The number of finishers in half marathon events increased by 507,500 compared to 2022, reaching a total of 1.859 million. To date, at least 2.5 million people nationwide have completed either half or full marathon events, according to the blue book.

By the year 2025, the number of domestic road running and related sports events is estimated to increase to 2,500, with the total number of marathon participants reaching 10 million, the CAA estimated. 

During the Wuxi Marathon held on March 24, Chinese runner He Jie broke the men's national marathon record with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, and 57 seconds.

In addition to the athletic achievements, the event in Wuxi has spurred an explosive growth in various sectors such as catering, accommodation, transportation, and tourism in the city, driving consumption to the tune of about 282 million yuan ($39.8 million), a 45.5 percent increase compared to 2023.

Cashing in on the marathon events, many cities are integrating their local culture and tourism with the carefully designed race routes to open up a new window to showcase the charm of a city, turning a marathon into a deep tour through a city.

As participants immersed themselves in the aroma of the mountainous tea plantations and coffee gardens along the routes of the Pu'er Simao Marathon held in Pu'er, in March, the city of profound tea culture showcased its unique cultural glamour and tourism resources to the world through the marathon event.

Over 2,000 runners from around the world took part in the 2024 Turpan Jiaohe Marathon on Saturday in the grape valley in Turpan, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The event propelled the deep integration of the "sports+tourism" industry, establishing the brand of Turpan as the "Holy City of Grapes and Pearl of the Silk Road."

The continuously upgraded events not only entice more participants to experience a city's landmarks and local specialties, but also provide a great opportunity for local authorities to launch tourism activities tailored to the characteristics of the event.

In the future, with the development of the sports industry and the continuous evolution of consumption concepts, the marathon market is expected to continue growing.

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