Chinese rush overseas for Spring Festival

Updated: 2011-12-21 15:43


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BEIJING - Yang Jing and her husband are just one month away from their dream of a romantic honeymoon in the tropical island of Bali during the upcoming Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year.

They plan to spend 20,000 yuan ($3,165) on the trip, an "acceptable" expense for the couple who both work at public institutions in Taiyuan, capital of the northern province of Shanxi.

"The island has great sea views, and it's more convenient to go there this year because my city has a new direct flight," said the 26-year-old Yang.

She and her husband are just one of the many Chinese who have chosen to travel abroad during the traditional family-reunion-type lunar new year, which falls in mid-January.

The Spring Festival is the most important holiday period in China, and the tradition is to return home to have dinner with the whole family on New Year's Eve, the last day of the Chinese lunar calendar.

However, many families now choose to step out of the country to pursue new holiday experiences.

The trend reflects a change in people's attitudes toward the homecoming tradition, and they now focus more on the holiday experience, said Li Jianxin, an assistant professor of tourism management at Beijing International Studies University.

"The traditional way of spending the holiday comes the same every year. This Spring Festival my family decided to vacation in the Maldives to enjoy the sea breeze and swimming," said Wang Chen, a businessman in Shanxi who has an annual income of 100,000 yuan.

The increasing enthusiasm for outbound trips during the Spring Festival is part of a surging market of China's outbound tourism.

About 57.39 million citizens went on outbound tours in 2010, up 20.4 percent year-on-year, bringing a total of $48 billion to their destinations, according to a report from the China Tourism Academy (CTA).

Meanwhile, this year's sales of outbound tours for the Spring Festival is drawing to an end.

"The trips to hot destinations such as the United States and Europe for Spring Festival have almost been booked completely," according to Li Meng, a manager from the China International Travel Service Limited, headquartered in Beijing.

"People even choose to vacation in distant islands like the Seychelles and Mauritius for exoticism. It's really a great change," Li Meng said.

She recalled that China's outbound tourism started in the 1990s when the major destinations were Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

"Choices were limited and ordinary people couldn't afford the trips," Li said.

With the booming economy and increasing living standards, traveling gradually changes from a luxury to a necessity for ordinary Chinese people, she added.

China has already become the largest source of tourists in Asia and about 140 countries and regions have become the tourism destinations for Chinese citizens, said the CTA report.

Rising personal incomes and consumer confidence contribute to the surge, Professor Li Jianxin said.

According to a McKinsey report on Chinese consumers released in November, 58 percent of respondents said they expected their incomes to rise next year, compared with 39 percent in 2010.

Facing the increasing number of Chinese outbound tourists, many popular tourism destinations, like Japan and the Republic of Korea, have simplified the visa application process for China's tourists.

The European Travel Commission on December 1 also launched a Chinese language version of its tourism website to attract more tourists from China to the crisis-hit continent.

With the boom of the country's outbound tourism, more destinations have enhanced their traveling environment to offer better services for Chinese tourists, which is beneficial for both China and those countries, said Li Jianxin.