Chinese New Year Outbound Travel Set to Skyrocket Despite Slowing Economy

    As Chinese tourists are estimated to take 6 million trips abroad over Chinese New Year, they're becoming increasingly interested in independent travel and experiences.
    New Zealand is anticipating an influx of Chinese visitors for Spring Festival. (Shutterstock)
    Jessica RappAuthor
      Published   in Travel
    New Zealand is anticipating an influx of Chinese visitors for Spring Festival. (Shutterstock)
    New Zealand is anticipating an influx of Chinese visitors for Spring Festival. (Shutterstock)

    The Chinese New Year travel season that starts on February 8 is one of the largest in the world, with an estimated 2.91 billion trips expected to take place during the holiday. While it's traditionally a time to spend with family, making dumplings and exchanging red envelopes, many tourists use the vacation as an opportunity to explore the world outside their hometowns, and an increasing number of affluent and upper-middle class Chinese tourists have booked expensive trips overseas despite the grim economic forecast. According to a recently released report by leading Chinese online travel service provider Ctrip, about 6 million trips will be taken out of China instead of domestically during Chinese New Year (which would be a million more than last year).

    The number of travelers this holiday is even on course for breaking records as tourism destinations around the world prepare to cater to around 40 percent more Chinese tourists. Where they are headed has been influenced by changes in visa policies, an increasing flexibility in flight routes—such as in the case of New Zealand, which is expecting its biggest season of Chinese tourists ever.

    While shopping is a favorite activity for China's outbound tourists abroad, many lifestyle and travel companies are preparing for a group of Chinese travelers that aren't focused on shopping alone, banking on young millennials interested in more experience-based travel. Airbnb, the accommodation booking and room-sharing site that recently officially expanded into China, announced that it hoped Chinese millennials would make the company profitable for the first time ever this year. Last year, 700 percent more Chinese travelers used Airbnb to book rooms. Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharcyk recently told Financial Times, “The millennial generation has a smartphone and is very independent. They want to meet new people. They want to take selfies with them. It's a very different mentality to travel."

    Travel patterns incorporating more unusual sightseeing opportunities, as opposed to only the high-end shopping districts, surfaced last year, and this year, Ctrip is reporting that the amount of money Chinese travelers are putting towards travel budgets is rising. According to the company's research, spending for Chinese travelers abroad during Chinese New Year is increasing to more than about $1,520 per person, and this doesn't include costs for shopping. Instead, it covers costs of flights, hotels, and tour guides, for not only the average sightseeing experiences, but add-ons like hot-air balloon rides and whale watching. Notably, however, 50.4 percent fewer people are opting to travel independently rather than with tour groups via the usual bus tours.

    Aside from booking more interesting tour packages and sight-seeing adventures, it's been recently on trend for Chinese tourists to pick more exotic destinations for travel, like the North and South Poles. Ctrip's research revealed that Chinese travelers are booking trips to Antarctica, at about $45,682 a trip, making it the most pricey of the travel company's offerings.

    While the retail sector is counting on outbound Chinese shoppers to notice their elaborate Chinese New Year campaigns, it seems increasingly likely that this year for Chinese tourists, it's just as much about the stories they have to tell after their trip as the luxury items they have to show for it.

    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.