Spring Festival appears to be no longer a time solely for family reunions in China.
More wealthy Chinese are traveling abroad, with shopping one of their most important missions during the weeklong holiday.
From Japanese electronic toilet seats to Swiss luxury watches, Chinese tourists have been globe-trotting in pursuit of purchases in department stores and luxury shops.
The number of Chinese traveling abroad is expected to have exceeded 5 million during the holiday, driven by a stronger yuan, favorable visa policies, increased wealth and demand for quality leisure time.
Spring Festival this year also marked the first time that outbound tourists had outnumbered those traveling at home, with 60 percent of Chinese tourists spending the holiday in foreign destinations, according to the China Tourism Academy.
Overseas retailers, department stores, electronics shops and luxury boutiques have been cashing in.
In Japan, stores selling electronic goods have been packed with Chinese shoppers. Small but high-end products such as rice cookers, toilet seats and digital cameras have sold out, according to a Japanese media report.
Some Japanese media estimated that about 450,000 Chinese tourists will have traveled to Japan during the holiday, spending $941 million.
The China National Tourism Administration has predicted that the number of Chinese heading abroad during the holiday break will reach 5.19 million, a 10 percent year-on-year increase.
The academy said revenue for the Chinese tourism industry during the holiday will be more than 140 billion yuan ($22 billion).
In Paris, 80 percent of Chinese tourists’ spending was devoted to shopping, according to a report by HSBC.
Falling sales of luxury European brands in China due to the anti-corruption campaign contrasts with the lavish spending by Chinese tourists abroad.
These tourists now account for 40 percent of luxury goods sales in France, 35 percent of such sales in Italy and 25 percent of luxury sales in Britain, the report said.
French politicians are considering a controversial plan to extend Sunday opening hours to accommodate the influx of Chinese travelers.
Paolo de Cesare, chief executive officer of Parisian luxury department store Printemps, said: “In the 1970s, we had shoppers from the United States. In the ‘80s and ‘90s we had Japanese and in the early 2000s we had Russians. But for the past six or seven years, Chinese have been the main tourists shopping at Printemps.”
Forty percent of the company’s sales comes from overseas visitors, who account for only 20 percent of its customers. Chinese customers make up 50 percent of those from overseas, according to Cesare.
British shopping malls also joined the battle to lure the world’s top-spending tourists.
Glittering malls in central London saw brisk trade, with lines forming at popular stores and the most sought-after fashion items selling out fast.
“I saw a Chinese woman buy five luxury handbags and three watches for her family,” said Li Rui, a Chinese shopper in her 30s.
According to Global Blue, which tracks spending by overseas visitors in Britain, China is the largest contributor, accounting for 25 percent of total tax-free spending last year.
“Retailers across Britain were set to benefit from the influx of international shoppers for Chinese New Year,” said Gordon Clark, country manager for the UK and Ireland at Global Blue.
Luxury brands not only introduced products to cater to demand from Chinese consumers, but also launched services such as tax-free shopping, cultural training for marketing staff and payments through Chinese credit card UnionPay.
Prestige British department store Harrods has opened a new Chinese restaurant on its fifth floor. The 90-seat eatery serves signature dishes including Peking duck, lotus root and lily bulb in spicy sauce.