Posted on September 26, 2017
To best attract and prepare for Chinese outbound tourism, it’s essential to understand when Chinese are most likely to travel. So we’ve prepared a helpful guide to China’s national holiday schedule to help identify peak times and destinations.
Chinese New Year
China’s biggest and most important holiday is Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year. As it is based on the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, the date changes every year, but it always falls between late January to mid-February. The national holiday period is 7 days, one of two long ‘Golden Week’ holidays for Chinese workers.
According to the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), there were 6.15 million overseas trips during the Chinese New Year period in 2017, up 7% year-on-year. As Chinese New Year is a traditional family holiday, family travel is particularly important, making up 51% of Chinese outbound travel.
Online travel agency Ctrip reported that the 10 most popular destinations during the 2017 Chinese New Year holiday were: Thailand, Japan, the United States, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Although these are mostly warmer weather destinations, there is some interest in winter sports among affluent Chinese travelers, as indicated by the 2017 Hurun Report on high net worth (HNWI) travelers, which found that the most popular travel destinations for winter and spring included Canada and Switzerland, along with Japan, Thailand, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand. 18% of respondents in the Hurun Report said they planned to travel abroad at Chinese New Year.
Booking for Chinese New Year travel starts early, and destinations around the globe cater to Chinese communities and visitors during this time, with traditional cultural celebrations as well as commercial activities such as special window displays and promotions.
National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival
Another major holiday for overseas travel, especially for long-haul trips, is China’s National Day, the second ‘Golden Week’, which starts on October 1 each year. The Mid-Autumn Festival, another one of the most important traditional Chinese holidays, is based on the lunar calendar and is celebrated with one day off. Always around the end of September or beginning of October, Mid-Autumn Festival can sometimes overlap with the National Day holiday, merging into an eight-day holiday. In 2017, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on October 4, within the National Day Holiday, which will extend Golden Week by an extra day, from October 1-8.
Outbound tourism numbers at this time have increased rapidly in recent years, with nearly 6 million Chinese outbound tourists during October Golden Week 2016. This is another period that is popular for family travel, and in 2016, 53% of Chinese citizens planning to travel during this time were doing so with family.
According to the CNTA, the most popular overseas destinations in 2016 were South Korea, Japan and Russia, followed by Thailand, Taiwan and Australia. The National Day holiday was the most popular overseas travel period among affluent Chinese, according to the Hurun Report, with 22% planning to travel during this time. Their most popular destinations for summer and autumn centered around tropical islands, with Thailand, the Maldives, Fiji, Bali, Hawaii, Saipan and Malaysia at the top.
Reservation time for holidays during this period can start as early as May, with a peak booking time in August, which saw an increase of one to three times in comparison with the month of July. Lead booking times of 45 days and above are particularly frequent for more expensive and remote destinations, which require a more attentive planning, and frequently a visa application. More spontaneity and shorter lead time is more frequent for Asian destinations.
May Day/Labor Day
International Labor Day, celebrated on May 1st, was once a third Chinese ‘Golden Week’, but it was downgraded to one day off in 2008, when Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and Qingming all became additional public holidays. It is now more popular as a domestic travel holiday, though 41% of travelers using OTA Tuniu’s online booking services for the holiday in 2017 did go abroad and 7% of respondents in the Hurun report indicated that they planned to travel overseas during this time.
Dragon Boat Festival
Another lunar holiday, held between late May and mid-June, Dragon Boat Festival is only a one-day holiday for Chinese workers. But, perhaps because of favorable weather conditions at this time of year, it is becoming an increasingly popular time for outbound travel, even to long-haul destinations. There were 2.71 million outbound trips in 2017, up 7.2% year-on-year. According to the CNTA, the most popular destinations in 2017 were Russia, Thailand, Italy, Vietnam and France. This holiday was chosen by only 5% of travelers in the Hurun report.
It’s worth noting that Dragon Boat Festival will fall on June 16-18 in 2018, nearly three weeks later than 2017’s dates, which could increase its popularity as a summertime travel period.
Apart from a particularly late Dragon Boat Festival like in 2018, there is no national holiday in the summer, but this is another popular period for Chinese outbound tourism and so bears mentioning. It was also the third most popular travel period in the 2017 Hurun Report, with 17% of HNWI Chinese planning to travel in the summer. Because of school holidays, it’s another popular time for family travel, as well as the growing phenomenon of post-graduation student travel. With families and students, Asian destinations like Thailand and Japan are most popular.
Held on April 4 or 5, Qingming is also known as the Tomb Sweeping Festival, a time to return to one’s hometown to pay respects to ancestors. Because of this, and because it is another one-day holiday (celebrated, like the others, with a three-day weekend), Qingming is primarily a time for domestic travel. According to CNTA, there were 93 million domestic trips during the 2017 Qingming holiday in China.
The Western New Year is also celebrated in China, with one day off for January 1st. This is usually celebrated with family at home, and with Chinese New Year so close, it is not a popular holiday for travel.
Travel modes and behaviors change accordingly to the holiday period when Chinese travel overseas. Below are a few considerations and tips for your travel brand:
• Destination choice – This largely depends on the climate. Warmer and island destinations are popular during the cold months of Chinese New Year, while cold climate Russia is popular during the summer months. Knowing when Chinese tourists visit your destination can be of great help, as well as knowing what different activities they engage in during different times of the year.
• Trip length – Long-haul travels are concentrated around the seven-day holidays of Chinese New Year and National Day, as well as the summer months, when students have two months off school. South East Asian trips are popular destinations for long weekends. The length of the trip will also have an impact on the number of activities and locations visited, with more opportunities to promote and develop regional or more off the beaten track destinations.
• Travel Companions – Chinese New Year is about family unity, so this time of year sees many extended families traveling together, having different implications for the services needed. During the summer months. Parents take their children traveling, while retirees mainly travel during the off-season when traveling is cheaper. It is harder to predict when wealthy Chinese travelers will go overseas, as they do not seem to have a fixed time to travel.
• Planning and booking – According to Hotels.com, most Chinese travellers take 2-6 months to start planning their trips, with surprisingly little difference in the time needed to plan and book long-haul versus short-haul trips. Destinations requiring a visa will see longer planning times, as well as to less well known destinations where more research is needed.
• Advertising & marketing campaigns – The correct timing of your promotional activities can truly impact their success. If you are a destination, you should start running campaigns early on – 3-6 months in advance – as the inspiration phase starts quite early. If you offer in-destination services such as car rental or accommodation, 1-2 months will suffice, with over 90% of planning taken place 30 to 60 days in advance, according to PhocusWright.
• Communications – Festivities present a great opportunity to send holiday greetings and engage with your fans and followers. Running a red packet campaign for Chinese New Year is a good way to show Chinese consumers that you care, and to stand out in their minds.
China Outbound Travel