From Middle East to Europe, Chinese travelers redefine May Day holidays

    Oman and Saudi Arabia saw over 300% growth in Chinese visitors, while Gen Z flocked to niche attractions and small towns.
    A man walks in front of the Maraya (Mirror), the world’s largest mirrored building,  in Saudi Arabia’s northwestern Al-Ula desert. Photo: Getty Images
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Travel

    Chinese tourists embarked on a spending and travel frenzy during the May Day holiday, according to data released by travel agency Ctrip. The five-day break that ended yesterday saw a surge in both domestic and international travel, with inbound tourism orders increasing 105% year-on-year, largely attributed to the impact of visa-free policies.

    Ctrip’s 2024 May Day Holiday Travel Summary revealed that Chinese tourists visited nearly 200 countries and over 3,000 cities worldwide during the break.

    Off-the-beaten-path adventures#

    Just shy of 10 million airplane trips were recorded over the May Day holiday.

    The Middle East emerged as a standout region, with countries like Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait experiencing outbound tourism growth exceeding 300% compared to the previous year. European nations, such as Spain, Turkey, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, and Georgia, also saw growth rates surpassing 150% YoY.

    While Beijing, Shanghai, and other major cities topped the list of domestic travel destinations, short-haul destinations such as Hong Kong, Macau, Southeast Asia, Japan, and South Korea proved popular among international travelers. Long-haul destinations, including the US, Australia, and the UK, also witnessed a significant influx of Chinese tourists.

    This travel boom was not limited to traditional popular destinations. According to, hotel bookings in county-level markets spiked by 68% YoY during the holiday, indicating a growing interest in niche attractions and small towns among younger generations. Data from Alipay further illuminated this trend, with cross-regional payments seeing the largest year-on-year increase in destinations such as Yili in Xinjiang, Yanbian in Jilin, and Jingdezhen in Jiangxi.

    Spending up#

    The surge in travel was accompanied by a rise in consumer spending. Domestic travelers spent 166.9 billion RMB ($23.13 billion) during the holiday, a 12.7% increase from the previous year and 13.5% higher than the pre-pandemic level in 2019. However, per capita spending of 565.7 RMB ($78.41) was 11.5% lower than in 2019, suggesting that while overall spending has increased, individual travelers may be more cautious with their expenses.

    The travel industry has adapted to these changing consumer preferences, with companies like Yum China, the operator of KFC in China, shifting their focus to new cities and roadside locations to capture the spike in travel volume during holidays, reports Reuters.

    While some challenges remain, such as lower per capita spending and a focus on cost-saving measures, the overall increase in domestic and international travel, coupled with the exploration of new destinations, paints a promising picture for the future of China’s tourism industry.

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