As international travel and shopping abroad become increasingly popular over the Chinese New Year holiday period, the China Tourism Academy reports that more than 5 million Chinese tourists ventured outside the country for the recently concluded vacation week with a significant focus on Asian shopping hotspots.
This number marked a growth rate of 10 percent from last year, and means that there were more outbound tourists than domestic ones for the first time during the holiday season, according to Chinese media. It states that 60 percent of all Chinese tourists went abroad over the time period (this number appears to be focused specifically on leisure trips over the holiday as opposed to the mass exodus from Chinese cities known as “the world’s largest human migration”).
A growing number of Chinese tourists is opting to avoid the crowded domestic holiday scene for several reasons—many of which are strongly related to shopping. Rising incomes mean that more of them can afford it now, while a stronger yuan gives them more incentive to seek out cheaper prices abroad—especially since tariffs on foreign luxury goods are already so high. In addition, countries around the world have been increasingly relaxing their visa policies for Chinese visitors in a bid to increase tourism.
Thanks to its close proximity, easing visa access, and duty-free shopping, South Korea took up 15.6 percent of overseas Chinese trips for the holiday, making it the top foreign destination. Seoul was an especially popular place to visit, as Korean shopping centers featured staff wearing Chinese costumes and offering Chinese-language service to attract China’s duty-free shoppers. Korean media reports that the city’s department stores and luxury shopping districts saw stunning growth rates in Chinese purchases over the holiday period that ranged from 27.7 to 74.9 percent.
As the third most popular foreign destination, Japan also saw a significant influx of Chinese shoppers. Japanese media reports that Mitsukoshi Department Store in Ginza, Tokyo saw duty-free sales triple over Chinese New Year, while department stores in Osaka saw between 3.5- and 5.4-fold increases in duty-free sales to foreign visitors over the holiday. Japanese retailers have seen a major comeback over the past year as Chinese visitor numbers rebound from 2012’s boycotts.
Thailand, meanwhile, also benefited from its bid to rebound from a Chinese tourist growth slump and appeal to more upscale visitors. Coming in as the second most popular foreign destination for Chinese visitors, the country attracts travelers interested in both shopping and “experiential luxury,” which is increasingly popular with Chinese consumers.
Unsurprisingly, two locations that had a difficult time this Chinese New Year were Hong Kong and Macau, which have both seen a mainland luxury spending slump over the past year. After Hong Kong reported that its number of mainland Chinese visitors had decreased over the holiday for the first time in two decades, Macau predicted that its casino revenue would drop by a precipitous 53.5 percent for the month of February as it remains hit by China’s anti-corruption campaign.
The top destinations for Chinese tourists over the holiday demonstrate the continued dominance of Asian locales over farther-flung places. The weaker euro helped boost Italy, however, which was the only European country to make it into the top 10 destinations over the New Year. Although Asian countries will always be the easiest to reach in terms of proximity, other locations are also poised to benefit from Chinese New Year: traveling Chinese luxury consumers have a significant presence in Europe and a growing influence in the United States as they seek out new locations.