During China’s Golden Week holiday, the world’s second-largest economy experienced some respite from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mainland China recorded a total of 826 million trips, marking a 4.1 percent increase compared to the equivalent period in 2019, during the eight-day period including Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day, ending October 6.
This data released by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on October 7 highlights a gradual recovery in travel activity. The increase in tourism, however, did not translate into a significant hike in spending, as figures fell short of earlier projections.
On the move
Fliggy, an Alibaba Group-owned online travel platform, reported that visa processing services in September were over 70 percent higher compared to April, which was ahead of another major national holiday, May Day.
While tourism within the “four-hour flight circle” around China had already experienced a swift recovery after the pandemic, Fliggy noted that destinations located farther away, such as Australia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iceland, and Egypt, also saw a remarkable rebound in travel demand.
“The [above] trends reveal a growing preference towards higher quality, personalised journeys and an increasing interest in exploring destinations that were once considered distant,” said Zhang Chen, vice president of Fliggy.
Chinese payment app Alipay also tracked a significant rise in Chinese tourist spending in less-explored destinations like Estonia and Qatar, signalling a shift in travel preferences.
Asian destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, along with European countries such as France and Italy, remained popular among Chinese tourists. Thailand and South Korea in particular are projected to be choice spots, following the two destinations’ announcements of visa-free schemes and other travel perks for Chinese citizens.
Recovery in spending more gradual, rather than explosive
Amid an economic slowdown, Chinese tourists continued to shop—albeit at more conservative levels than anticipated. A mid-year review by CBRE cited recovery of mainland Chinese consumer demand was weaker than expected in the first half of 2023, with the slow recovery in retail sales prompting landlords to lower asking rents in hopes of attracting tenants.
Golden Week holiday spend echoed the trend, with travellers increasingly turning their attention to local attractions. Young mainland Chinese tourists have embraced more leisurely modes of exploration, such as the “citywalk” trend that has gained momentum on Xiaohongshu, a social media platform widely used on the mainland.
Data from Alipay showed the average spending of outbound Chinese travellers from September 29 to October 6 exceeded levels seen in 2019, indicating sustained growth momentum in outbound Chinese tourism since the beginning of the year.
The highest expenditure recorded through Alipay on purchasing goods including skincare products and duty-free items surpassing spending on all other activities.
Food and beverages, followed by accommodation, were the second and third largest spending categories, respectively, for Alipay.
The property market, considered a key factor in China’s economic challenges, remained subdued, and analysts observed the holiday period did not significantly boost homebuying activity as hoped.