PHOTO: Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco. (photo via Flickr/Matt Biddulph)
Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year), which falls between mid-January and mid-February depending on the lunar calendar, is an important time for the domestic travel industry in China, but it could become very lucrative for international destinations as well.
This year, more Chinese travelers than ever before are shrugging off the tradition of returning to their family’s hometown or visiting friends and are opting instead to spend the holiday abroad.
This is bad news for China’s already struggling domestic tourism market, but it is a welcome trend for other destinations both in the Asia Pacific and around the world. As long as the outbound Lunar New Year travel trend continues, these destinations can count on a huge boost to their travel industries each winter.
The data, for this year at least, tells a very promising tale. Travel research firm ForwardKeys projects that the number of outbound travelers from the PRC during Chinese New Year will jump up 9.8 percent compared to last year.
Why the change?
Actually, this growth is part of a larger trend of Chinese travelers heading abroad rather than traveling at home. Low-cost carriers with international routes are now plentiful in most major Chinese cities. Also, air pollution problems have gotten so bad in some metropolises that travel companies have been pushing international destinations with better air quality. Even places like Iceland and Antarctica have seen a surge of interest from the Chinese market.
Where are they going this year?
According to ForwardKeys, most New Year’s tourists will travel regionally. Japan and South Korea will see a lion's share of the PRC's wintertime outbound traffic thanks to an abundance of low-cost carrier options and an established infrastructure for Chinese tourists. Other usual suspects like Thailand and Taiwan are also in line to see a spike in arrivals this year (the New Year starts on Jan. 27 and the vacation period can last up to 15 days).
Of course, Hong Kong and Macau, both officially part of the People’s Republic but governed under different systems, are the most popular destinations of all. They are simply the easiest to get to and the most user-friendly options for Chinese travelers.
Biggest growth happening overseas
Interestingly, destinations much further away from China are seeing the most growth when it comes to New Year’s travel. This year, Europe will only receive about 11 percent of the total outbound traffic from China. However, that constitutes an increase (compared 2016) of more than 65 percent. Though the overall number of arrivals will still be quite modest, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America will also see a similar percentage increase in the number of visitors this year.
On the individual country level, Spain and the UK are at the top of the growth rankings. Both will get almost twice as many inbound Chinese travelers in 2017 as they did during the 2016 holiday.
The U.S. and Canada will also benefit. Already the largest destination for Chinese travelers outside of East Asia, North America could see its piece of the New Year travel pie grow by 3.3 percent this year.
A chance to speed up tourism growth?
The international travel surge is certainly welcome for U.S. cities that are looking for new sources of tourists. New Orleans, for example, wants to improve its Asia Pacific marketing efforts. The city is still short of its goal of attracting 13.7 million visitors per year by its 300 birthday in 2018. The New Orleans CVB and Louisiana Office of Tourism have contracted a China-based marketing firm to help the city, state and region gain more visibility amongst the Middle Kingdom’s outbound travelers.
They should be able to target their audience quite accurately. This year, a significant percentage of overseas travelers (headed to Europe, the Americas and Africa) will come from China’s three most cosmopolitan cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.