Although Christmas is not a public holiday in China, that doesn’t stop Chinese travelers from taking the opportunity to travel abroad for exciting—and relaxing—winter activities. According to Ctrip, China’s leading online travel marketplace and the owner of Trip.com and Skyscanner, Chinese Christmas travel primarily takes two shapes: escaping the cold winter by visiting tropical destinations, or embracing the winter and venturing out to experience “real” Christmas and popular winter activities.

Most importantly, Chinese consumers who travel in the winter holiday period strongly prefer international over domestic travel, despite similar domestic offerings. China has its own tropical getaway, the tropical southern island of Hainan, which sees average temperatures below 75 °F (23.9 °C) in December. Still, it can’t match warmer locations in Southeast Asia. So there’s certainly a strong case for venturing abroad to rejuvenate in tropical temperatures.

Trending Christmas travel activities in 2017

For Chinese travelers who are venturing to warmer destinations for a Christmas that is everything other than white, popular activities have little in common with what is typically associated with Christmas. Instead, Chinese travelers who venture to warmer destinations take the opportunity to embrace summer activities such as swimming, water sports, and relaxing at the beach. Of course, that doesn’t rule out enjoying holiday festivities, treats, and shopping opportunities—but escaping to warmer pastures remains the primary purpose of travel for this group of Chinese consumers.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Chinese travelers who instead choose to embrace the winter. For this group of travelers, favorite activities skew towards the unique and experiential rather than more laid-back activities popular with the other group of travelers. For this group of Chinese Christmas travelers, activities such as watching the northern lights, skiing, Arctic and Antarctic explorations, whale watching, and hot springs rank high on their wishlists.

Out of these activities, Ctrip ranks chasing the northern lights and skiing as the top activities this year and cites a 400 percent boom of itineraries that include northern lights this year. The growing popularity of skiing as a travel activity among Chinese consumers is also in part attributed to the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Thanks to the forthcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea has also thrust skiing back into the spotlight.

Trending Christmas destinations in 2018

For Chinese travelers who are looking to enjoy skiing around Christmas, Ctrip reports that destinations in Europe such as France and Switzerland rank high on wishlists. For travelers who wish to enjoy skiing during the holiday season but would prefer to not venture all the way over to the European Alps, Japan and South Korea also rank high on the list of popular skiing destinations. Interestingly, Ctrip also found that the Winter Olympics in Sochi meant a lot for Sochi’s brand recognition in China, making it one of the major skiing destinations for Chinese travelers this year.

Meanwhile, the growing number of Chinese travelers who are vying to experience the northern lights are venturing to even more far-flung destinations this year. According to Ctrip data, Nordic destinations such as Finland, Norway, and Iceland are popular choices for northern lights chasers. North America also ranks high among these travelers, with the United States and Canada both ranking among the top picks. For those looking to experience the northern lights a bit closer to home, Russia and China’s own Heilongjiang are also popular choices that promise the chance of experiencing the northern lights.

Those Chinese travelers who are less inclined to go on adventurous trips still have a lot of exciting choices for the holiday season—whether it’s for relaxing on the beach or enjoying some Christmas shopping. These travelers are predominantly seeking out nearby metropolises such as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Osaka, and Singapore, but also major destinations in Australia and the United States. For those looking at a warm and relaxing holiday season, places such as Bali, Phuket, and destinations throughout Malaysia are all popular choices. For those willing to venture a bit further, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, the Maldives, and the United States rank high as well.

For some destinations, the winter holiday season means a boom in Chinese travelers compared to other times of the year. For example, Ctrip reports 400 percent in-destination growth in Canada and Scandinavia, and 200 percent growth in Alaska during this time of the year.

How Chinese tourists are traveling for Christmas

According to Ctrip, Christmas is a mini-peak season for group tours, do-it-yourself tours, and other destination ground services—with bookings around 20-30 percent higher than the yearly average. In other words, group tours and more arranged types of travel are particularly popular in the holiday season. This trend rings particularly true for the more far-flung destinations such as Finland, Iceland, and the United States, where Ctrip sees 60-70 percent of travelers traveling in groups. In short-haul destinations, mainly where language concerns are less of an issue, independent travel is more common both in general and during the holiday season.

Group tours are particularly popular for travel to long-haul destinations. Photo: T.Dallas / Shutterstock

Demographically speaking, it perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise that Chinese millennial travelers are more inclined than their peers to go chasing the northern lights and skiing. According to Ctrip, around 60 percent of northern light travelers are young couples and married couples, with the remaining 40 percent made up by families who also bring their children with them.

Older travelers, on the other hand, are more inclined to seek out short-haul destinations for a relaxing vacation abroad—with island travel particularly prevalent among this group of travelers. As opposed to the trend toward younger travelers with northern lights, older Chinese travelers (ages 46-60) actually make up as much as 41 percent of Chinese travelers who visit Antarctica, a trend that Ctrip attributes to this group of consumers having more time and savings than their younger peers.

Key insights

  • Chinese Christmas travel tends to fall into two distinct categories: travel to colder destinations for an “authentic” and white Christmas, as well as travel to warmer destinations for relaxation and enjoyment.
  • More adventure-oriented travel such as chasing the northern lights, skiing, as well as Arctic and Antarctic expeditions are increasingly popular, especially around the winter holiday period.
  • Chinese Christmas and winter travel boosts arrivals at more winter-oriented destinations by several hundred percent during this time of the year.
  • Group travel and other types of organized travel is more common around Christmas than it is during other times of the year, and is particularly popular for trips to long-haul destinations.
  • Chinese travelers strongly prefer international travel around Christmas, underlining the growing importance of this season for travel marketers catering to Chinese travelers.

Image credit: featured photo from Shutterstock, flag icons in graphics from freepik at Flaticon.com