China’s Golden Week begins tomorrow to celebrate National Day, the day the Communists officially took power, which means at least two things: the disappointing economic news will cease for a week as the country shuts down for the holiday and Chinese tourists will flood international airports during the biggest week for overseas travel.
Four million Chinese are planning to travel abroad, an increase of 11% percent from last year, according to ‘The Paper,’ a state-run news site. Despite the Chinese stock market bubble bursting and an industrial sector in recession, the travel figures are the latest proof that Chinese consumers aren’t influenced by the sometimes-dire headlines about China’s economy.
Larger numbers of Chinese traveling internationally is one of the world’s unassailable trends. Before, Chinese were either too poor for overseas travel or banned by a paranoid government from going abroad. Now they are heading overseas in droves. Fortune covered the waves of Chinese coming to the U.S. two years ago. Chinese tourists spend about $6,000 in America, the most of any visitors, and their trips were expected to rise 259% between 2011 and 2017; in the first quarter this year, visitors rose 19% to 560,000.
The number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad is projected to rise from 116 million last year to about 242 million in 2024, says CEIC. “That’s almost all of Indonesia hitting the beach in a single year, or Germany, Iran and Egypt combined,” HSBC economist Frederic Neumann noted today.
This year the Chinese will increasingly visit Japan, taking advantage of a weak yen, as they scale back their trips to what used to be the de rigueur destination of Hong Kong.
The number of Chinese visitors to Hong Kong is in fact down sharply since the protests there last fall. Overnight visitors were down around 10% earlier this year.
China’s state-controlled press blames anti-mainland sentiment in Hong Kong for Chinese going elsewhere. Xinhua quoted a Shanghai teacher in a recent story using “lingering anti-mainland sentiment” as her excuse for not going
But the explanation is more propaganda than truth. China’s Internet companies and government regulators censored much of the protest coverage from Hong Kong as it happened last fall. Pictures vanished, chats were blocked, and videos banned in mainland China. Also, Hong Kong’s shopping districts returned to normalcy soon after the protestors left.
Instead, HBSC says the sharp downturn in Chinese travelers to Hong Kong is caused by three other reasons, including new restrictions on cross-border travel for day visitors on shopping excursions, a strengthening Hong Kong dollar, and Chinese travelers beginning to be more adventurous in their choice of destination.
That includes Japan, which may harbor the most anti-mainland sentiment of any country but still politely welcomes Chinese travelers. Recent Chinese travel there has spiked.
As important as Chinese travelers are to destination economies—they were responsible for almost all of Thailand’s second quarter GDP growth, for instance—they are still known as some of the world’s most impolite. The Chinese government has doubled down on impelling tourists to improve after a series of unsavory incidents. Mainlanders have angered Hong Kongers by allowing their children to defecate in public, and one recently scalded a flight attendant with noodles and hot water on a trip from Bangkok because of a seating assignment.
In the past the government has tried to improve behavior through nationalism. The state press has emphasized the ‘envoy’ role Chinese tourists take on abroad. Lately, the government has turned to more coercive measures. Beginning last March, the China National Tourism Administration began blacklisting disruptive tourists from traveling for one or two years and tour guides have to the right to report travelers who disrespect local customs and or sabotage historical exhibits, it says.
But the government is powerless to stop more Chinese from traveling, and this Golden Week will bring plenty.