Capitalizing on China’s growing ski culture, Melco China Resorts, an associate of Melco International Development Ltd., has announced the launch of China’s first ski and leisure resort, the redevelopment of other ski areas and the groundbreaking of a luxury mountain home project. The company recently topped out two hotels in the Yabuli Sun Mountain resort, which is the core focus of MCR’s immediate development plan. The resort will include three premium hotels in total, including a luxury 24-suite boutique mountaintop hotel. The location is China’s most recognized ski resort area, and will host the World Winter University games in early 2009. MCR will also upgrade the Sky Mountain Beidahu and Star Mountain Beijing resorts, with minor work starting immediately and larger development planned in the coming years. Meanwhile, work on MCR’s Adventure Mountain Changchun resort and development of the members-only Lotuse Mountain club will get underway by next year, Overall, the company is transforming five existing ski areas in the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin into year-round mountain resorts, and has plans to secure additional areas and develop further resorts in the future. In addition to the full-service hotels and other facilities, MCR is also developing a selection of luxury resort homes and suites, located on ski-in and ski-out slope-side sites, offering easy access to ski trains and other outdoor activities. No further information, such as the amount of homes to be constructed or the timeline, was released. Lawrence Ho, chairman & CEO of Melco, noted in a release that the company’s move into the burgeoning mountain resort business in China will address the growing need for up-market recreation activities among the country’s fast-growing middle and upper classes. It aims to attract a customer base that is actively seeking and willing to pay for such a leisure experience. According to the China Ski Association, the total number of ski visits in China increased by 109 percent to over 4 million between 1999 and 2004, expected to increase to 10 million by 2010. MCR will also be working in close collaboration with the association to introduce a complete suite of events, including sports, luxury camping, performance driving school, culinary and wine programs and live entertainment. And China overall has become an important tourism destination in Asia and the fifth-largest tourism country in the world, based on the number of international tourist arrivals, according to HVS’s “Economy Hotel Trends in Mainland China” report. The inflow of foreign tourists follows a growing number of domestic tourists, who accounted for approximately 1.4 billion in 2006, the report said; domestic tourism generated $781 billion in 2007, nearly 20 times the revenue of 2000.