China will officially be on leave from 7 to 13 February; and when the Chinese pack their bags for the 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 National Development and Reform Commission estimates about 2.91 billion trips are expected to be made across the country during the 2016 travel rush between 24 January and 3 March, known as the 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% 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 last year’s 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
A growing number of Chinese are celebrating the new year abroad and consultancy group China Luxury Advisers says retailers, brands, tourist destinations and cities worldwide have ramped up their Chinese New Year efforts to take advantage.
"The number and scale of Chinese New Year promotions and celebrations taking place outside of the Chinese mainland continues to grow exponentially,” the consultancy says. “Leading department stores and shopping centres worldwide have launched special Chinese New Year promotions, themed window displays and limited-edition products."
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 weeklong 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.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Chinese travellers spent a massive US$165 billion abroad in 2014, accounting for some 13% of global tourism receipts2.
Golden period for NZ tourism
China is New Zealand's second largest visitor market, behind Australia and Tourism New Zealand expects about 70,000 Chinese visitors in the four weeks surrounding 8 February New Year celebrations.
That’s a 30 per cent higher than last year’s golden travel period which saw 55,000 Chinese tourists flood into the country. 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.
The expected benefit to the New Zealand economy is huge, with an average spend of $5,100 per Chinese visitor; a whopping 30 per cent increase for the year.