Spring Festival is not only a traditional seven-day holiday when Chinese residents go home for family reunions. It’s also a time many people prefer to spend traveling.
Ctrip.com International, the largest online travel agency in China, forecasts that nearly 6 million outbound trips will be taken during this Spring Festival, setting a record for the Golden Week.
Meanwhile, Chinese travelers’ budgets for trips have been increasing in recent years. The average spending of Chinese outbound travelers for Spring Festival will exceed 10,000 yuan ($1,520), excluding local shopping costs, the agency said.
The main expenses are for air tickets, accommodation, tour guides, transportation, visa fees and insurance, said Dai Yu, marketing director of Ctrip.
Some self-guided tourists also like to spend a lot on unique experiences, such as hot-air balloon rides in New Zealand, opera in London or whale watching in Hawaii, Dai said, adding that during Golden Week, Chinese get into a generous holiday mood.
Statistics from Mafengwo.cn, a tourism information-sharing website, showed that online bookings per capita for overseas independent trips was up 30 percent to 6,800 yuan this year.
“People used to care about the price, but they focus more on the quality of the trips now,” said Ma Yutao, head of the data center of Mafengwo.
Some more affluent Chinese travelers have even turned to luxury and private tours.
“I do not care about where I go during Spring Festival; I just want to find peace and privacy in a beautiful place,” said a businessman surnamed Zhang, who had just booked a tour to Fiji priced above 65,000 yuan per person.
He said the well-off preferred going abroad with family, as they are usually too busy during the festival for many gatherings.
HHtravel, a luxury travel agency based in Shanghai that is well-known for global tour products priced at more than 1 million yuan, launched several private high-end tour specials for Spring Festival that were almost fully booked half a month out.
Europe is still a major destination, although some travelers are concerned about the safety there.
HHtravel’s packages to Europe, including the 10 most expensive Michelin restaurants and Capri Island, the most expensive luxury island in Italy, are priced between 97,500 to 115,000 yuan per person.
Even short-haul trips to Japan and the Republic of Korea are priced from 39,500 to 62,500 yuan per person, which buys accommodation in top luxury hotel Hoshinoya Karuizawa and skiing in Alpensia, the venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“Benefiting from easier visa policies, outbound tourism this Spring Festival got more attention than before,” said Jack You, CEO of HHtravel.
Chinese residents’ income and the size of the middle class are increasing, You said, meaning that outbound tours are in ever greater demand.
A growing number of international flights also provide more opportunities for Chinese residents, he said.
Golden Week will have three peak times－the first in early February, as some people try to avoid the festival rush, according to You.
He said most people will depart on Feb 8, the first day of the Chinese New Year. The last peak will carry through to Feb 14, Valentine’s Day.
Spring Festival means big business for travel agencies.
“Our sales record for a single day is up to 100 million yuan this peak season,” said Ctrip’s Dai.
Most travelers choose high-end tourism products during the Spring Festival, as they usually spend the holiday with family members, he added.
Ctrip’s most expensive product this holiday season is a cruise to Antarctica, priced at 300,000 yuan for two people. The 24-day tour also stops in South America.
Although China’s economic growth rate is slowing, residents’ passion for outbound tourism has not been affected－in fact, they spend even more, some business insiders said.
“Almost all of our products during Spring Festival are fully booked, and there are rare vacancies in some short-haul products,” said Ma Wenting, assistant to the general manager of Magic Travel, the high-end brand of Beijing Utour International Travel Service, a Shanghai-listed travel agency focusing on outbound tourism.
Magic Travel’s top product is also the trip to Antarctica. The first group departed on Jan 19, and the agency plans five groups altogether for the festival.
The high-end tourism market has bright prospects, with China’s tourists making 4 billion trips annually, said Dai Bin, head of China Tourism Academy.
Luxury tour products can lead the way in innovation, he said.