'Hot travel period' for New Year
Updated: 2012-01-13 07:45
By Wang Wen, Cecily Liu and Zhang Chunyan (China Daily)
Ivan Fischer, conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, performs at the 2012 Beijing New Year's Concert. An increasing number of Chinese have made concert-going part of their festival celebrations. [Provided to China Daily]
Many choose to celebrate traditional festival in way different from the past
BEIJING / LONDON - With Spring Festival starting half a month before usual this year, Chinese travel agencies are set to enjoy an earlier hot season from the outbound tourism business.
Some travel agencies have already sold out the seats available to outbound tourism groups during the Spring Festival, which starts on Jan 23.
"Except for some tour groups to Hong Kong and Macao, all of our outbound tourism groups ceased receiving applications by the first week of the new year, because the quota is almost full," said Li Meng, deputy manager of China International Travel Service Co Ltd's outbound tourism department.
The Chinese traditionally spend the festival with their families. In recent years, more and more families are deciding that they would like to travel overseas together for the holiday rather than simply stay at home, Li said.
"Our festival customers are mainly traveling with their families this year," Li said.
In a survey report from Tuniu.com, a website used to book trips, 37 percent of 500 respondents said they plan to travel with their families during the festival.
Song Qing, an office worker in Beijing, will spend the festival in Thailand with her husband and parents.
"I want to stay with my family during this rare bit of time off," she said. "But I also want this traditional festival to be a little different from the past."
Statistics from the National Tourism Administration suggest that the number of travelers going on outbound trips during the Spring Festival will increase by up to 60 percent - depending on the destination - above what the percentages were for the same holiday in 2011.
Europe, the United States, Africa and Australia are the most popular among Chinese residents, according to the administration.
Beijing UTour International Travel Service Co Ltd, one of the largest organizers of outbound trips in China, said the number of customers it helps go to Europe will increase by 50 percent, and the number to the United States by 20 percent, above what both were for the 2011 Spring Festival.
The increasing number of Chinese residents traveling overseas is encouraging some Western stores to offer special goods and services to them.
The luxury store Harrods in London has released a collection of investment-grade gold bars, each with a dragon inscribed on it.
"Gold is a very special purchase in the Year of the Dragon, so we are very proud to offer our Chinese customers the very best ingots," said Chris Hall, head of Harrods Gold Bullion. "The Harrods Gold Bullion service is extremely popular with investors."
Selfridges, also a luxury department store in central London's Bond Street, has erected a large dragon in its main hall to greet visitors.
The Chinese tourism authority forecast that the price of outbound tours during the festival has increased by 10 to 40 percent, driven largely by the rising cost of plane tickets and accommodations overseas.
The price of going to Australia is nearly 3,000 yuan ($475) higher and is greater than that of going to other destinations. That distinction results largely from Australia being in the midst of its summer, making it an attractive place to travel to, according to business insiders.
The cost, meanwhile, of being part of tour groups that go to certain islands - Maldives, Bali, Phuket Island and others - has increased by 20 to 30 percent above what it was in the same period of 2011, said Zhang Lei, general manager of UTour travel service.
The high prices have not stopped Chinese travelers from wanting to go on those trips, as evidenced by the doubling in the number of applications for the island tours, Zhang added.
Travel agencies will enjoy the surge in business but will also have to cope with a longer off-season than in other years.
Because the festival is also ending earlier than usual in 2012, the off-season will last for one and a half months this year, said Li Meng. In the past, it lasted no longer than a month.
Travelers, though, are likely to benefit. Business insiders said they will have more time to travel during the off-season, when some tour groups will offer discount prices.