Chinese tourists stay closer to home during annual Golden Week

A tourist is pictured outside the Forbidden City in central Beijing. Source: Reuters

CHINA’S annual Golden Week is upon us, and this year’s hottest destinations are not Paris or Tokyo. Chinese tourists are staying closer to home and choosing to explore domestic attractions such as the beaches of Sanya or the peaks of far-western Yunnan.

Reuters reported that Chinese travelers are increasingly opting for “staycations” which proves a boon for domestic tourism operators, but a challenge for retailers and hotel chains tapping into Chinese demand abroad.

Tian Haiqin, a 50-year-old woman from Beijing said cost, jet lag and language barriers were the main reasons for traveling closer to home. “It’s quite expensive to travel abroad, not only to far Western countries, but also around Asia,” she said.

Tian plans to spend approximately CNY20,000 (US$3,000) a week for her and her son to stay in a resort in the eastern city of Hangzhou, renowned for its scenic lakes and surrounding hills.

According to estimates from travel agent International, about 710 million Chinese will make trips in the country for the National Day holiday, while six million will travel abroad.

Tong Yiling, Asia analyst at BMI Research, said the domestic tourism sector had seen a “rapid improvement” in competitiveness, with improved transport links and big investment in tourist sites.

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Better marketing about local travel destinations and the impact of tighter capital controls to deter Chinese from taking money abroad were also having an effect.

Because of this, many domestic tourist sites are trying to cash in on the trend. Walt Disney Co’s Shanghai park saw over 10 million visitors in its first year, while Fosun International’s Club Med has opened hotels in Guilin, Sanya, and skiing resorts in the northeast.

Beijing too has opened duty-free zones around the country and is cracking down on dishonest local tour operators. A boom in local “adventure” tours has also helped lure younger millennial tourists to domestic travel.

“Compared with outbound travel, domestic travel has been greater in size and growth rate for the first several months of this year,” China’s largest online travel agent Ctrip said in written comments to Reuters.

Analysts suggest that the shift in trend is caused in part by security concerns overseas. Attacks in Europe, instability on the Korean peninsula and political uncertainty in the United States have weighed on tourist demand.

“I think one of the most important reasons why people like to travel within this country is because of lots of unexpected incidents such as terrorist attacks in recent years,” said an official surnamed Zhou at travel company Leyou. “People feel it could be very dangerous to travel overseas.”

On top of that, tension between China and South Korea has seen numbers drop by than 60 percent in August against 2016.

However, this is not to say that Chinese outbound travel is slowing down. A report from CLSA in July estimated Chinese tourists would spend US$429 billion overseas by 2021.

Additional reporting by Reuters