Report: International Chinese New Year Travel Set for Record Breaking 2017

    According to an industry report, Chinese New Year travel is set for another year of record growth, but where are holidaymakers traveling?
    A growing number of Chinese people are taking the opportunity to spend the Chinese New Year holiday abroad. (Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock)
    Daniel MeesakAuthor
      Published   in Travel

    According to the latest report released by travel intelligence company ForwardKeys, international travel during Chinese New Year is projected to break last year’s record by 9.8 percent. The report also finds that less popular regions, such as Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East show high levels of growth, although short-haul destinations remain the most popular choice among most Chinese New Year holidaymakers.

    The report, which leverages data on flight reservation transactions to generate its findings, identified a 9.8 percent increase in bookings from China during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday period. The period analyzed includes China’s public holiday period—starting January 27—as well as the nine days leading up to the holidays to account for people taking days off to extend their vacation. This data was put in comparison to the equivalent period last year, when Chinese New Year occurred on February 8, roughly 10 days later than it does this year.

    Since ForwardKeys’ data doesn’t take low-cost carriers (LCCs), charter flights, and non-air border crossings into account, destinations such as Hong Kong and Macau that are frequented by visitors crossing the border by land, as well as destinations dominated by low-cost airlines such as Malaysia may be underrepresented in the results.

    Destinations in Europe are picking up steam with Chinese New Year travelers after a rough 2016. (Data from ForwardKeys)

    When are they traveling for Chinese New Year?#

    According to the report, most departures are projected to occur on January 26, one day prior to the start of public holidays and the Lunar New Year. The highest concentration of departures was found in during the four days leading up to public holiday period, with approximately one-third of all international departures projected in that period.

    For how long are they traveling during Chinese New Year?#

    In spite of short-haul destinations dominating the list of top destinations during Chinese New Year, the report found that the average length of stay among Chinese travelers is eight days during the holiday period. This, combined with the high concentration of departures in the period leading up to the Lunar New Year, would imply that many travelers are taking a few extra days off on top of the seven days of public holiday to make the most of their vacations.

    Where are they traveling for Chinese New Year?#

    The usual suspects remain the top choices among global Chinese travelers during the New Year holiday period, with destinations in Northeast Asia representing 39 percent of all departures, and Southeast Asia coming in second with 28 percent of all departures. For long-haul journeys, Europe comes out on top with 11 percent of all departures, closely followed by the United States and Canada, together representing 10 percent of all journeys during this period.

    From where do they travel?#

    First-tier cities in China remain the main source of international departures during the Chinese New Year, representing 66 percent of all international travel. This number, however, does not include departures from Shenzhen, which is treated as a first-tier city in most reports, nudging the number down a bit from what can usually be expected. On the other hand, lower-tier city residents who travel to first-tier cities by other means to embark on international travel are nudging the numbers in the other direction.

    While trips from first-tier cities still dominate international departures in China, lower-tier cities are catching up. According to the report, departures from lower-tier cities grew 3.3 percentage points faster than departures from Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai in comparison to last year. Notably, the report also found that travelers from lower-tier cities stay longer at their destinations: on average nine nights compared to the eight nights spent by the average first-tier city traveler—this in spite of first-tier travelers representing a larger share of long-haul travel during the Chinese New Year.

    What destinations are fueling the growth of Chinese New Year travel?#

    Perhaps a surprise to many, Europe comes out at the top of ForwardKeys’ growth rankings, seeing 68.5 percent growth in Chinese New Year travel over the same period last year—this amidst growing concerns about security after a string of terror attacks across the continent in 2016. While the terror attacks may have deterred Chinese travelers from Europe throughout 2016, it seems like Europe is on the rebound from the start of the new year. While the report shows strong growth across the board in Europe, destinations perhaps less associated with the risk of terrorism show the highest growth rates; 101 percent in Central and Eastern Europe, 100 percent in the Nordics, and 69 percent in Southern Europe. Western Europe, the target for most terror attacks last year, still came out with 42 percent growth in the report and only ranked behind Southern Europe in share of departures bound for Europe.

    Other long-haul hotspots for Chinese tourists showed more modest levels of growth: the United States and Canada saw a 3.3 percent uptick in arrivals, and Oceania saw Chinese tourists drop by 1.1 percent.

    Among the short-haul destinations, Southeast Asia remains the biggest driver of growth, up 12.2 percent, closely followed by South Asia at 10.8 percent. Northeast Asia, while representing 39 percent of all departures, seems to suffer from the increasing competition in the short-haul market, and saw numbers drop by 1.8 percent in comparison to 2016—making it the only other region than Oceania to see visitor numbers decline.

    While the absolute number of arrivals from China remain modest in other parts of the world, tourism stakeholders in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East still have reasons to be optimistic about the new year as they all were subject to over 60 percent growth in Chinese New Year travel. Indeed, getting off the (Chinese) beaten track seems to be gaining appeal among some of China’s many holidaymakers.

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