Public holidays a profitable industry

Updated: 2016-10-07 17:12


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Public holidays a profitable industry

Performers take part in a dragon and lion dance competition on Wednesday to celebrate the National Day holiday in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. [Photo by Lu Boan/Xinhua]

While China has public holidays for such diverse activities as sweeping ancestors' tombs, eating mooncakes and racing dragon boats, in the UK we have bank holidays, although it's mainly those who don't work in banks who celebrate them.

China has 13 days of public holidays, and the UK has just eight.

Countries vary in their approach to public holidays, but China stands out because twice a year the entire country takes a week off-for Chinese New Year in spring and National Day in early October. But instead of affecting GDP due to factory closures, these weeklong breaks have become an industry in their own right.

The idea was conceived in 1999 as away to boost China's service sector, including tourism. And benefit it does.

The Ministry of Commerce said that this year's Golden Week, as the October break is known, has seen restaurant and retail sales rise 11 percent year-on-year. To put that in perspective, it translates roughly as the equivalent of Kuwait's GDP.

In China, a weeklong break means most Chinese are on the move. Transport authorities estimate 750 million journeys were made during Golden Week last year, with more than 4 million tourists heading abroad.

As the nation has grown economically, a huge middle class with disposable income has emerged in the past 10 to 16 years.

"Future growth in the demand for travel will come from families eager to experience local culture in a leisurely way," said Gordon Gao, an analyst at Mintel. "In addition, long weekends and the sharing economy will further boost the holiday market in China."

But while China's public holidays have become an industry, Britons still cling to their bank holidays.

It was John Lubbock who introduced the Bank Holidays Act in 1871. Until then, workers had relied on a haphazard system of religious days, such as Christmas and Easter. But it was Lubbock, son of a banker,who regularized the system that identified the days when banks would be closed, and thus there would be no commerce.

In France, so obsessed are they at maintaining a work-life balance, people spend hours looking at calendars to see whether Bastille Day falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday. If it does, many French do what they call faire lepont (make a bridge), taking off the Monday or the Friday next to Bastille Day to make a long weekend.

Although China has the edge in public holidays, a closer look at the data shows the country still has a way to go in terms of workers' time off.

Chinese employment law states that workers with 10 years of work experience or less are entitled to five days paid leave a year, rising to 10 days after 10 years, and 15 days after 20 years.

In the UK, the government says most workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid leave per year.

Scrutiny of public holidays throws up some odd examples, such as Bonfire Night on Nov 5. Of course, we have the 9th-century Chinese invention of gunpowder to thank for the fireworks we let off to mark the occasion.

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