Trade tensions with the US and a slowing economy are keeping Chinese tourists to budget-friendly destinations closer to home for the Lunar New Year holiday next week, with more likely opting for Bangkok than Sydney or San Francisco.
The week-long holiday is one of China’s longest breaks and more than 400 million people are expected to travel across the country for family reunions, according to Chinese travel agency Ctrip.
It estimated 7 million would go abroad.
Hotels and travel agencies in Asian countries from Thailand to Japan anticipate higher numbers than a year ago of Chinese tourists, who have become a powerful spending force with the ability to make or break the fortunes of retailers and tourism brands.
However, recently, the numbers going to the US, Australia and New Zealand have fallen or only show small increases.
“We see the growth start to slow a little bit and per pax spending, especially on shopping, declining,” said Hunter Williams, a US-based partner at management consultant firm Oliver Wyman.
The consultancy said that average spending on overseas shopping a year ago was 5,800 yuan (US$855), compared with 8,000 yuan in the Lunar New Year period in 2016.
Last year, the Chinese economy grew at its slowest rate in nearly three decades and economists expect a further decline this year, in part because of weakening consumer spending.
He Yanping, 26, who works in advertising in Beijing, was among those not venturing too far overseas for Lunar New Year, with an 11-day Malaysia holiday she estimates will cost between 8,000 yuan and 10,000 yuan.
“I actually wanted to go to Australia, but the problem is that it’s too far, and the hotels and visa are expensive,” she said.
Ctrip said bookings showed the four most popular destinations are Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore, all within seven hours flying time from Beijing or Shanghai.
Incoming flights are full, Bali Tourism Board chairman Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana said.
“We are optimistic that bookings will be at least the same” as last year, Adnyana said.
The Thai Hotels Association said bookings from China, which tumbled after 47 Chinese tourists died when a boat sank near Phuket in July last year, were back to normal levels.
Chinese outbound travel to the US has seen a significant slowing since trade frictions between Beijing and Washington began escalating.
From July to September last year, such arrivals fell 20 percent from a year earlier, according to the private China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, which analyzes Chinese travel data.
“For every citizen, it became clear that it is not politically correct at this moment in time to travel to the USA, especially for leisure,” an institute spokesman said.
The outlook for Australia and New Zealand, in previous years popular during the southern hemisphere summer, is also less rosy.
In November last year, Chinese arrivals in New Zealand were 4.4 percent below a year earlier, while in Australia they were just 1.6 percent higher.
Air New Zealand on Wednesday lowered its profit outlook and forecast revenue growth would ease due to weaker tourism.
Du Ge, a sales director at Beijing Xinjie International Travel Service, which organizes tours to New Zealand and Australia, said that bookings ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday have been weak, which he attributed to the economic climate.
“Three or four years ago, we could have more than 3,000 bookings. Now, maybe 1,000,” he said.
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