According to the latest data from travel intelligence company ForwardKeys, international travel during Chinese New Year is projected to break last year’s record by 11 percent. The jump would signify a faster level of growth than last year when Lunar New Year travel grew by 9.6 percent. One of the factors that ForwardKeys identified as a key influence of Lunar New Year travel this year is the Chinese ban on group travel to South Korea, which is causing a surge in forward bookings to other destinations throughout the Asia Pacific region.

The clear winner in Chinese New Year travel this year is the Asia Pacific, which represents 76 percent of all outbound Chinese travel during the holiday period. While it is perhaps unsurprising that Asia Pacific—a mostly short-haul region for China—is the leading destination for Chinese holidaymakers, it is also the fastest-growing region at 13 percent growth compared to last year. And this despite South Korea, until recently a staple destination in Chinese outbound travel, is suffering from a steep fall in Chinese arrivals due to China’s travel ban.

Photo: ForwardKeys

ForwardKeys identifies Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan as the top three destination countries this year, growing at 17 percent, 12 percent, and 8 percent respectively over last year’s figures. Airports in Japan and Thailand are also among the best performers, with Sapporo being the biggest winter at 40 percent year-over-year growth, followed by Osaka, Phuket, Dubai, and Narita International Airport in Tokyo. Needless to say, Chinese tourists are warming up to cold winter destinations.

Photo: ForwardKeys

And while the most popular destinations are all in China’s periphery, the fastest-growing destination this year is New Zealand, with bookings up 30 percent year-over-year—good news for New Zealand which suddenly saw Chinese arrivals drop after a long period of strong growth.

Chinese holidaymakers are also becoming much more interested in Thailand’s competitors, e.g., Vietnam and the Philippines, with both ranking among the top-five fastest-growing destinations during the Chinese New Year. After Thailand’s move to put an end to Chinese so-called zero-dollar tours in the country, many of these tours have begun focusing on other markets in Southeast Asia, resulting in surging visits in destinations such as Vietnam and Cambodia.

Growth in the Asia Pacific outperformed long-haul markets this year. Photo: ForwardKeys

Beyond the Asia Pacific, year-over-year growth is in the single digits. Arrivals in the Americas are up 7 percent, followed by 4 percent growth in both Europe as well as in Africa and the Middle East. This stands in stark contrast to last year when ForwardKeys identified 68.5 percent growth of Chinese New Year travel to Europe, 67.1 percent growth to Africa and the Middle East, and 62.9 percent growth to Latin America. While ForwardKeys didn’t break it down in that much detail this year, North America may rank as the only winner in the Western hemisphere this year with growth at 7 percent in the Americas compared to 3.3 percent growth in North America last year.

Growth in long-haul markets exploded in 2017. Photo: ForwardKeys

The largest drop in year-over-year growth is in Europe, plunging by 64.5 percentage points over ForwardKeys’ figures from last year. While the region is still growing, it seems like the China-EU Tourism Year has been unsuccessful in giving Chinese tourism to Europe the boost that some stakeholders may have expected.

In fact, the overall trend this year seems to be in stark contrast from last year. Despite the South Korea tourism ban and frosty relations between China and Taiwan, short-haul markets are the biggest winners, with long-haul destinations seeing significantly declining growth rates. Last year, growth in long-haul markets far outperformed that in East and Southeast Asia.

In the end, while Chinese New Year travel this year may represent shifting fortunes, strong growth of overall Chinese New Year travel is still good news for global Chinese travel. China’s biggest travel season is more international than ever, and this shift is showing no signs of slowing down.

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