China will officially be on leave from 27 January; and when the Chinese pack their bags for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, they do it in big numbers.
Moving en masse
The Spring Festival is considered one of the most important national celebrations for Chinese families and each year millions of workers head to their hometowns for the holidays, triggering the largest human migration in the world.
China Daily reports that Chinese authorities expect the country to make about 3 billion trips, equalling 40 per cent of world's population, in a phenomenon called "Chunyun". Chinese people made 520 million trips in the week to Thursday 19 January, the first week of the 40-day Chunyun, up 3.1 per cent last year, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
About 2.91 billion trips were made across the country during the 2016 Chunyun period.
Since 1984, Spring Festival travel has increased from 500 million “rides” to a record high of almost 3.7 billion in 20141.
Numbers dropped in 2015 when a mere 2.8 billion journeys were recorded across the 40-day Chunyun period; including 2.4 billion car trips, 43 million ferry rides, 295 million train journeys (more than 40 per cent of them on high-speed rail) and 49 million airline flights.
New Year spending spree
Quite apart from the inevitable traffic and transport chaos that stems from moving such vast numbers around the country, Lunar New Year celebrations present an annual boom for Chinese retailers.
Not much is produced in China over the Lunar New Year – for two to three weeks, factories cut normal working hours dramatically and production levels slow to a trickle – but retail, food and beverage sales get a huge boost.
Figures reported by China's National Bureau of Statistics show food and beverage companies sold US$109.4 billion in goods during the 2015 official seven-day Spring Festival holiday period, an 11 per cent increase on 2014. Retail sales grew to 4,799.3 billion yuan (US$775 billion) in the first two months of 2015, a 10.7 per cent increase year-on-year.
Exporting the festival
According to China's National Tourism Administration, 5.2 million people travelled overseas during the 2015 Spring Festival, “with shopping one of their most important missions during the week long holiday”.
South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Australia and New Zealand were among the top 10 destinations. And it’s a list worth being on; Chinese tourists are big spenders.
Chinese visit New Zealand in large numbers during the Spring Festival. In February 2015, there were more Chinese holiday visitors than from any other country, surpassing the number of visiting Australians, and equalling the total for Americans, Canadians and British combined.
Tourism New Zealand expects about 30,000 Chinese New Year holidaymakers to hit our shores over the two weeks surrounding Spring Festival, the same numbers as last year.
Tourism New Zealand’s General Manager Asia David Craig says fewer tour groups were expected but the number of “free independent travellers” was on the rise.
“There are still likely to be 27,000 to 33,000 visitors for the two weeks of Chinese New Year, providing great opportunities for tourism operators,” said Mr Craig. “Chinese New Year, and the weeks around it, will continue to be a key travel period for the Chinese, especially families, so operators can look forward to a busy fortnight for the foreseeable future.”
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Chinese travellers spent a massive US$165 billion abroad in 2014, accounting for some 13 per cent of global tourism receipts2.
1 US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, monthly analysis of US-China trade data, April 2015
2 United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Tourism Highlights, 2015