China’s Spring Festival holiday has always been an important window to observe the trend of the domestic consumer market. The boom of people returning home and traveling has led to the explosive growth of the consumer market.
The 2023 Spring Festival was the first long holiday Chinese people enjoyed since the ease of the country’s COVID-19 response. People’s long pent-up desires to visit relatives and friends, travel, and so on accumulated during the pandemic have been unleashed. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s estimation, the seven-day long holiday saw domestic tourism revenue reach RMB 375.84 billion, a year-on-year increase of 30 percent, recovering to 73.1 percent of the amount for the same period in 2019.
Hongyadong Scenic Area in Chongqing is crowded with visitors on January 26, 2023.
Back to Normal
Tourism is one of the industries that have been affected most by the pandemic. With the weakening of the pathogenicity of the Omicron variants, the high percentage of vaccinations, and accumulative experience in preventing and controlling the pandemic, China was able to adjust its response policies, and the tourism industry has been able to gradually recover as a result.
On November 11, 2022, China issued 20 measures to further optimize its COVID-19 response. Ten specific items that were released on December 7 stimulated people’s enthusiasm to travel and gave confidence to various market entities and local governments. A press conference of the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council on January 19, 2023 announced that all provincial regions had already passed the peak of treating fevers at fever clinics and emergency rooms, and the number of patients with severe symptoms had declined, thus basically eliminating the public's concerns about traveling.
According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the number of domestic trips during the holiday from January 21 to 27 reached 308 million, up 23.1 percent year-on-year, recovering to 88.6 percent of the amount for the same period in 2019.
Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy, said that the epidemic prevention and control and consumption promotion policies have comprehensively raised the expectations of urban and rural tourism consumption and greatly boosted the confidence of industrial recovery. From the daily data of the seven-day holiday, tourism consumption increased steadily for the first three days, peaked on the third day, and then fell slightly, as people’s return back to their place of residence after the festival varied. This is the normal rhythm of the Spring Festival travels in pre-COVID years.
Hustle and Bustle
Local governments introduced policies to encourage consumption such as lowering prices of commodities or temporally eliminating scenic spot tickets and issuing coupons for cultural and tourism consumption. As a result, major scenic spots across the country swelled with tourists.
The Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province saw a large increase of tourists. On January 27, the scenic area received 22,500 tourists, setting a historical peak for the same period of past years. During the seven-day holiday, it received a total of 141,800 people, an increase of 12.36 percent over 2019.
Tickets to Sanxingdui Museum, an ancient ruins museum located in the northeast corner of Sanxingdui site, a key national cultural relic protection unit in the west of Guanghan City, Sichuan Province, were sold out for four consecutive days starting from January 23. During the Spring Festival, the museum operated at full capacity as the visitor flow exceeded the highest number it received during the same period in the past many years. The museum activated emergency measures such as flow restrictions, with increased security and service staff to ensure the safety of visitors as well as the exhibitions.
According to the 2023 Spring Festival travel summary report released by the Chinese travel platform Ctrip, the tourism market during the past Spring Festival witnessed the best business performance it has seen in the last three years, and the overall number of tourism orders increased by four times compared with the same period last year.
Chinese tourists arrive at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia on January 22, 2023.
Recovery of Consumption
The Spring Festival break has always been an important window to observe the trend of China’s domestic consumer market. The boom in people returning home to visit relatives and travelling has led to the explosive growth of the consumer market. According to the latest data from the State Administration of Taxation, during this year’s Spring Festival, the sales revenue of consumption-related industries nationwide increased by 12.2 percent on a year-on-year basis, maintaining a steady growth trend overall.
Among them, the sales revenue of travel agencies and related service providers increased by 1.3 times year-on-year, and has recovered to 80.7 percent of the level in the Spring Festival holiday of 2019. The sales revenue of hotels and economical chain hotels throughout China increased by 16.4 percent and 30.6 percent year-on-year respectively, to 73.4 percent and 79.9 percent of the level in the 2019 holiday. Homestays offering personalized services were well received by tourists, with sales revenue increasing by 74.2 percent year-on-year and an average increase of 13.3 percent over the holiday in 2019.
During the holiday, Beijing’s major department stores, supermarkets, specialty stores, catering, and e-commerce enterprises achieved sales of RMB 5.09 billion, 98 percent of the level during the same period last year, an increase of 13.2 percent over 2019. The visitor flow in 60 key business districts in Beijing reached 25.311 million, 88.7 percent of the same period last year.
Another popular tourism destination in China, Chongqing Municipality, received 1.25 million tourists during this Spring Festival, an increase of 38.4 percent year-on-year, which is a recovery of 90.2 percent compared with 2019. In terms of consumption data, Chongqing's major commercial districts and key commercial enterprises achieved retail sales of RMB 15.67 billion, an increase of 13 percent over the same period of last year.
According to the 2023 Spring Festival consumption data released by Meituan on January 27, the average daily consumption increased by 66 percent compared with the 2019 Spring Festival during the first six days of the holiday, and Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, and Guangzhou, led the surge nationwide. Non-local consumption increased by 76 percent over the same period last year, ushering in a strong recovery together with local consumption, becoming a dual engine for driving economic recovery.
As regards entertainment, the total number of moviegoers during this year’s Spring Festival reached 128 million, and the total box office revenue exceeded RMB 6.7 billion, the second highest in recent years.
According to Dai Bin, the Spring Festival tourism market has set a strong and steady growth trend for the tourism industry in 2023, but the market entities that have survived after three years of loss cannot be revived in just one holiday. They need an extended period of time to recover. “To achieve greater recovery and higher-quality development of the tourism industry, comprehensive policy support from the central and local governments, professional advice from the cultural and tourism system, and entrepreneurship and innovation from tourism investment institutions and market players are needed,” Dai said.
Chinese tourists enjoying the rebound of air travel to Thailand take a photo at Nanning Wuxu International Airport on February 6, 2023.
Increasing Outbound Travel
The number of Chinese tourists visiting Southeast Asian destinations increased significantly as well during the Spring Festival.
According to Ctrip, during the holiday, the volume of outbound travel bookings surged by 640 percent year-on-year. The number of orders for overseas hotels and international flight tickets booked by Chinese mainland tourists both increased by more than four times over the last Spring Festival. Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Manila of the Philippines, and Bali of Indonesia have become the most popular international travel destinations for Chinese travelers. According to Ctrip's data, during the Spring Festival, among outbound air ticket bookings, air ticket bookings to Bali increased by 30 times year-on-year, Singapore more than eight times, Manila five times, Bangkok and Phuket four times, and Chiang Mai and Kuala Lumpur nearly three times.
Overseas destinations are also actively preparing for the large number of Chinese tourists. According to practitioners in Thailand, the return of Chinese tourists during the Spring Festival is just a new beginning, and a large number of Chinese tour groups are expected to come to Thailand in March and April this year. “The main reason for choosing to visit Thailand for the Spring Festival is that the country’s tourism resources are relatively well seasoned, the Thai people are also very hospitable, we can enjoy excellent sunshine and scenery without large crowds, and the accommodations are more affordable than Sanya in China,” said Wu Jiaxing, a citizen of Changsha who had returned recently from a trip to Thailand.
According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Chinese travel agencies and online travel companies will resume outbound group tour services to a total of 20 countries starting from February 6.
“We are really excited about this and we are ready,” said Liu Shengbo, general manager of Hunan Huatian International Travel Service Company. The company has developed tourism products related to 20 countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Maldives.
“It will take more time for outbound group travel to return to the pre-pandemic level. Limited international flights and the renewal of passports and visas will affect the enthusiasm of tourists to travel abroad,” said Liu. Despite all this, the Spring Festival boom in tourism boded well for the quick rebound of the travel market.
(Based on reports of agencies)