Chinese rush overseas for Spring Festival

Updated: 2011-12-22 08:39

(China Daily)

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Homecoming sacrificed in favor of holiday abroad

BEIJING - Yang Jing and her husband are just a month away from their dream honeymoon in Bali. They will spend the upcoming Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year, in the tropical island.

They plan to spend 20,000 yuan ($3,165) on the trip, an "acceptable" expense for the couple who both work at public institutions in Taiyuan, capital of the northern province of Shanxi.

"The island has great sea views, and it's more convenient to go there this year because there is a new direct flight from Taiyuan," said 26-year-old Yang.

She and her husband are just one of the many Chinese couples who have chosen to travel abroad during the lunar new year, traditionally observed through family reunions.

Spring Festival, to be observed in mid-January this year, is the most important holiday period in China. Traditionally the Chinese would return home to dine with the whole family on New Year's Eve, the last day of the Chinese lunar calendar.

However, many families now use the holidays to go abroad for new holiday experiences.

The trend reflects a change in people's attitudes toward the homecoming tradition. They now focus more on the holiday experience, says Li Jianxin, an assistant professor of tourism management at Beijing International Studies University.

"There is a sameness in spending the holiday in the traditional way. This Spring Festival my family decided to vacation in the Maldives, to enjoy the sea breeze and swimming," said Wang Chen, a businessman in Shanxi with an annual income of 100,000 yuan.

The increasing enthusiasm for outbound trips during the Spring Festival is part of the surging market of China's outbound tourism.

About 57.39 million citizens went on outbound tours in 2010, up 20.4 percent year-on-year, bringing a total of $48 billion to their destinations, according to a report from the China Tourism Academy (CTA).

Meanwhile, the sales of outbound tours for the Spring Festival this year is drawing to an end.

"The trips to hot destinations such as the United States and Europe for Spring Festival have almost been booked completely," according to Li Meng, a manager from the China International Travel Service Ltd, headquartered in Beijing.

"People even choose to vacation in distant islands like the Seychelles and Mauritius for their exotic appeal. It's really a great change," Li Meng said.

She recalled that China's outbound tourism started in the 1990s. The major destinations were Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

"Choices were limited and ordinary people couldn't afford the trips," Li said.

With the booming economy and improved living standards, traveling, once considered a luxury, has gradually come to be seen as a necessity for the ordinary Chinese people, she added.

China has already become the largest source of tourists in Asia. The Chinese are traveling to about 140 countries and regions for tourism, says the CTA report.

Rising personal incomes and consumer confidence were contributing to the surge, Professor Li Jianxin said.

According to a McKinsey report on Chinese consumers released in November, 58 percent of respondents said they expected their incomes to rise next year, compared with 39 percent in 2010.

The increasing number of outbound tourists from China has led to countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea simplifying the visa application process for the Chinese.

The European Travel Commission on Dec 1 launched a Chinese language version of its tourism website to attract more tourists from China to the crisis-hit continent.

The boom in the country's outbound tourism has inspired more destinations to offer better services to Chinese tourists. This way both China and those countries stood to gain, said Li Jianxin.