China's Golden Week: What to Expect from Over 750 Million People on the Move in 2016

    China’s Golden Week holiday is set to break new records in tourism and retail spending as over 4 million Chinese people travel abroad for their holidays.
    Avoiding the crowds: one of many reasons to travel abroad for the Golden Week holiday. (Flickr/<a href="">up to 2011</a>)
    Daniel MeesakAuthor
      Published   in Travel

    Less than a week away, China’s Golden Week holiday is set to break new records in tourism and retail spending as over 750 million Chinese people go traveling. With over 4 million Chinese travelers venturing abroad, the Golden Week (October 1–7) brings numerous opportunities for destinations and organizations around the world to profit from this key Chinese holiday season.

    The facts#

    China’s Golden Week is the key traveling season for Chinese people as they get the chance to spend a full week away from work—or away from home. Last year, some 750 million Chinese people chose to travel during the Golden Week, out of which 4 million elected to go overseas for the holidays. The week-long holiday has become the most important season for tourism, with overseas visits almost doubling the weekly average. A week-long holiday provides the opportunity to not only go to long-haul destinations but also to spend more time abroad, making a successful Golden Week performance particularly attractive for destinations around the world.

    China’s Golden Week also proves a crucial shopping week, with retailers stocking up on sought-after products and running Golden Week specials to heighten the allure for Chinese Golden Week holidaymakers.

    Last year’s Golden Week saw a record-breaking 750 million Chinese people traveling in spite of coinciding with 2015’s Chinese stock market turbulence, and the number is only expected to grow in 2016. With Chinese international travel still showing strong growth in 2016, especially to long-haul destinations, everything is pointing towards a bigger number of overseas visits than 2015’s 4 million trips abroad.

    Golden Week travel trends tend to change every year, with each year's latest trends always playing a role. However, various factors on a macro scale also play a large role in directing Chinese tourists in their travels abroad during the Golden Week. Last year's big winner, Japan, gained tremendously both from its weakened yen as well as its strong position as a trendy short-haul destination. Neighboring South Korea, another hot short-haul destination, suffered from last year's MERS outbreak and probably helped Japan by redirecting some of its prospective travelers there.

    So, where are Chinese international travelers going for their Golden Week holiday in 2016?

    The destinations#

    The U.S.-China Tourism Year is meant to boost Chinese tourism to the United States. (Flickr/Garry Knight)
    The U.S.-China Tourism Year is meant to boost Chinese tourism to the United States. (Flickr/Garry Knight)

    United States#

    During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States in early 2016, the U.S.-China Tourism Year was launched in an attempt to boost travel and cultural exchange between China and the United States. Although often more of a diplomatic freebie than a major diplomatic milestone, this particular tourism year has resulted in strengthened U.S. marketing efforts in the Chinese market that are likely to pay dividends during China’s Golden Week.

    2015 saw 22 percent growth in Chinese visits to the United States, with a new 10-year US visa offered to Chinese nationals lauded as an engine for further growth in 2016. With Chinese security woes dampening interest in travel to Europe, the United States proves a great choice for a week off in the Western hemisphere.

    Hong Kong#

    Despite having lost some of its luster, Hong Kong is still a key destination for Chinese travelers—and serves a perfect destination for Golden Week shopping. Other destinations in the region may be stealing some of its thunder with tax-free policies and customer service that caters specifically to Chinese shoppers, but Hong Kong will still draw a large crowd of Chinese travelers during the Golden Week and will know exactly how to satisfy their appetite for shopping.


    With 7.93 million Chinese visitors in 2015 and a projected 10 million-strong number of Chinese arrivals in 2016, Thailand is one of this year’s strongest performers in Chinese international travel. Geographic proximity, good tourism infrastructure, and a vast number of famous landmarks and destinations help propel Thailand into an excellent position to benefit from China’s Golden Week. Its tourism council expects 600,000 Chinese visitors during the Golden Week, and this in spite of cracking down on so-called zero-dollar tours.


    Arguably the biggest winner in 2015 with close to 100 percent growth in Chinese tourist arrivals, Japan saw 400,000 Chinese visitors that spent $830 million in the country during last year’s Golden Week. Regarded as one of the best shopping destinations in Asia, Chinese travelers took the chance to benefit from the cheaper Yen to stock up on electronics, cosmetics, and Japanese drugs. Accordingly, Japan’s buzzword of the year was bakugai, or explosive shopping, which was used to describe the behavior of Chinese tourists.

    Unfortunately for Chinese shoppers, the yen has strengthened in 2016, but Japan still proves an excellent destination for shopping what is regarded as higher-quality products. Japan’s Chinese tourism boom in 2015 also resulted in better-than-ever flight connections, an explosion in tax-free options, and Mandarin-speaking staff in many of its malls and shopping centers. Japan as a product has become more expensive in 2016, but it has also become a better product—and Chinese travelers will find it an attractive destination choice during this year’s Golden Week as well.

    South Korea#

    An estimated 210,000 Chinese tourists visited South Korea during last year’s Golden Week, and showed strong 30 percent year-on-year growth in spite of its summer MERS outbreak that lead to travel warnings being issued and many travelers canceling their trips. MERS is no longer considered a threat, and Chinese tourism to South Korea has shown strong growth throughout 2016, very likely leading up to a much stronger performance during this year’s Golden Week. With excellent tax-free shopping options, hot pop culture, and a growing number of casinos catering to Chinese customers, a large influx of Chinese travelers is all but guaranteed.

    New Zealand#

    New Zealand is a strong performer in Chinese global travel and 2016 is set to become another record year for Chinese tourism to New Zealand, which already broke a record with 330,000 Chinese visitors in 2015. Notably, New Zealand has been running ambitious marketing campaigns in China to attract visitors interested in experiencing its scenic views and natural landscapes.

    Importantly, New Zealand also sports a significant Chinese minority, and many Chinese students study at its educational institutions—making visiting friends and relatives one of many reasons to visit New Zealand during the Golden Week.


    Much like New Zealand, Australia is benefiting tremendously from Chinese tourists and has welcomed over 1 million Chinese visitors in the last 12-month period with 23.2 percent year-on-year growth in that period. Although its marketing efforts and strong brand image in China certainly help, the perhaps most important reason behind Australia’s recent Chinese tourism success is the cheaper Australian Dollar, which makes Australia even more attractive to Chinese visitors than it was two years ago.

    United Kingdom#

    Ironically, the June Brexit referendum has so far only been playing to the UK’s advantage as far as tourism is concerned. From a Chinese tourist’s point of view, the UK now has all the benefits of leaving the European Union as well as many of the benefits of being a part of the EU. The pound sterling took a tumble following the referendum, making shopping in London suddenly seem like a bargain. At the same time, the UK has yet to officially leave the UK, making crossing the border to and from other EU countries no more difficult than it was before the referendum. In other words, the UK in 2016 is the EU UK experience at a discount.

    In addition to its now more affordable shopping, the UK has put a lot of effort into attracting and satisfying its many Chinese visitors, resulting in both more air connections and better-satisfied travelers on the ground.


    Chinese travelers’ favorite European destination has unfortunately had a rough 2016 with high-profile terror attacks that have resulted in a many prospective Chinese visitors opting for other destinations that are perceived safer. Indeed, the recent events have hampered growth prospects throughout most of Western Europe, and instead directed some travelers to other “Western” destinations such as the United States and Australia.

    Nevertheless, France remains a top choice for Chinese travelers and seeing the Eiffel Tower ranks high on many Chinese people’s bucket lists. A weaker performance than in previous years is not at all unlikely, but it will still be one of the top destinations for Chinese Golden Week travel in Europe.

    The marketing efforts#

    Screenshot of Marriot International's LiYu website.
    Screenshot of Marriot International's LiYu website.

    In Singapore, the Singapore Retailers Association has brought the island nation’s many retailers together in a marketing push called the Singapore Golden Week: an 18-day long sale that coincides with China’s Golden Week. As the name would imply, the association is not shy about Chinese travelers being the main target of the campaign. It has also partnered with China’s UnionPay to offer exclusive privileges for the (mostly Chinese) cardholders who use their UnionPay credit cards during their travels in Singapore.

    Marriott International is taking the opportunity to roll out an entirely new rewards program exclusively for Chinese travelers just in time for Golden Week. The new rewards program, Li Yu (礼遇), will include Chinese-language services that cater to Marriott’s Chinese customers’ every need, and is offered as an integrated solution in WeChat. Chinese travelers will be able to connect to a Marriott concierge directly through WeChat for travel information, general customer service, and making requests for their upcoming stays at Marriott hotels.

    The United Kingdom is launching a campaign in China titled #OMGB, or Oh My Great Britain, which is highlighting the many sights and activities available for Chinese tourists in the United Kingdom. The campaign aims to not only highlight the typical tourist attractions for Chinese travelers, but also some of the rich experiences that can be enjoyed beyond the normal Chinese tourist trail.

    In Macau, new casinos have opened in time for this year’s Golden Week and the stakes are high as the Special Administrative Region (SAR) is betting on mass market gambling to cope with the slump in Chinese high rollers that have all but sought out casinos beyond the watchful eyes of anti-corruption authorities.

    Some retailers are worried about their stock, or rather their missing stock, as billions worth of merchandise intended for China’s Golden Week is stuck at sea after Korean container carrier Hanjin declared for bankruptcy. Hanjin’s bankruptcy risks affecting retailers both in China and destinations of Chinese Golden Week travelers.

    Meanwhile, in China, Dalian Wanda is trying to steal some of Shanghai Disney Resort’s thunder by opening another theme park just in time for Golden Week.

    The main takeaway#

    China’s Golden Week remains a key season for Chinese international travel, and stakeholders throughout the world are starting to realize the potential it holds for generating additional tourism and shopping revenues. With the stock market turbulence and MERS of yesteryears now regarded as bygones, this year’s Golden Week is all but set to outnumber the 4 million Chinese tourists who ventured abroad for their holidays in 2015.

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