The Lunar New Year, which begins on February 5th this year, is the largest annual human migration, as millions of Chinese citizens are on the move, mainly to their hometowns to celebrate the holiday with family. The holiday is a major revenue source for online travel agencies and China’s domestic airlines.
Last year, more than 6.5 million Chinese traveled abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday, compared to 386 million domestic trips in the same period. This year, closer to 7 million Chinese tourists are expected to travel abroad, with another 400 million traveling domestically. This forecast from China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip.com International, should quiet the skeptics who predicted a slowdown in travel consumption this year.
Ctrip estimates that outbound travelers will head to more than 900 destinations in 96 countries during the holiday. Last year’s Lunar New Year holiday generated $70.2 billion (RMB 475 billion) in revenue, in China and abroad, and will likely exceed that total this year.
Online travel agency Tongcheng-Elong, whose major investors include Ctrip and Tencent Holdings, said that the average airfare for long-haul flights was about $875 (RMB 6,000) round-trip while short-haul international flights averaged $540 (RMB 3,700). With most of the flights being booked well in advance, consumers took advantage of early deals for the holiday period.
Chinese travelers are expected to explore more than 900 destinations in 96 countries worldwide during this holiday
Chinese travelers, particularly those traveling abroad, are more willing to splurge on the experience during the Lunar New Year than at other times, according to a report from Ctrip. At this auspicious time of year, Chinese tourists are more likely to go all out on their vacations, bucking the trend that they are spending less on more frequent trips abroad. Whether the spending spree continues through the Year of the Pig will depend on various factors, including the U.S.-China trade war and foreign exchange rates.
Ctrip said that tourists look more for a personalized travel experience during the holiday and tend to book smaller group tours or independent travel. Private group tour reservations on the platform, for the holiday, increased over 100 percent year-on-year. The company also offers local guide services, with prices ranging from $44 to $148 (RMB 300 to 1,000) per day.
Ctrip added that about 91 percent of its customers have booked four- and five-star products on their platform for this upcoming holiday, an increase of four percentage points from the previous Lunar New Year. This indicates that Chinese travelers are not concerned about spending on vacation during the economic slowdown, or at least on the Lunar New Year celebration. Additionally, local Chinese newspaper Guangzhou Daily reported that more tourists are choosing to book small group tours this year, as such tours offer greater freedom and privacy for outbound travelers.
Ctrip has seen a significant increase in luxury bookings on its platform for the Lunar New Year
Some destinations will benefit more than others this Chinese New Year, and not only because of a larger number of arrivals. Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam may be among the top choices for Chinese travelers at this time, but they aren’t as likely to attract as many high-spending tourists searching for unique experiences and luxury products.
Meanwhile, Japan, one of the more popular overseas destinations for Chinese travelers during the Lunar New Year holiday (or any other time of year), appears to be unaffected by its newly-imposed departure tax of about $9.20 (¥1,000). Ctrip noted that many holidaymakers to Japan are interested in traveling with friends and visiting hot springs.
And finally, according to Ctrip, the U.S. is the top non-Asian destination on the list, and the seventh most popular destination this year, followed by Australia, the Philippines, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Cambodia, New Zealand, the U.K., and Spain, respectively. However, the top projected destination for the year is Thailand, which has successfully made a major push to attract Chinese tourists following the Phoenix boat accident that claimed the lives of 47 Chinese visitors in Phuket.
The top destinations will all benefit from Chinese tourist spending spree for the holiday, but they will also have to find ways to continue attracting visitors for the rest of the year.