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The dimmed luster of China’s “Golden Week”

October 7, 2017, 1:21 PM UTC

Over the past two weeks editorial duties have taken me to San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong, London and New York. At every stop, I’ve been surrounded by Chinese tourists.

They’re hard to ignore. On the streets of Tokyo’s upscale Omotesando shopping district last week, Mandarin seemed to drown out Japanese. At London’s Heathrow Airport, Chinese travelers far outnumbered Americans in the non-EU immigration queue. Here in New York, to get from my hotel on Chambers Street to Time Inc. headquarters in Battery Park, I’ve had to wade through throngs of Chinese tourists taking selfies at the Ground Zero 9/11 memorial.

Perhaps one reason it suddenly feels like Chinese tourists are everywhere is that this is the “Super Golden Week” holiday in China. Most Chinese workers only get two extended holidays per year, one for Chinese New Year, which falls in January or February, and the other for China’s National Day to celebrate the founding of the People’s Republic. Beijing created this second extended break, which has come to be known as Golden Week, in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis in 1999. The idea was to boost domestic consumption. In most years, Golden Week extends from October 1 through 7. But this year, because China’s traditional Mid-Autumn Festival also falls on October 4, the holiday has been extended by an additional day, enticing more Chinese travelers than ever.

China’s spring and autumn holidays have emerged as humanity’s largest migratory events. China’s National Tourism Administration estimates that this year, the number of Chinese traveling during Golden Week will surge 10% over the previous year to nearly 700 million—half of China’s 1.4 billion population or about one of every ten people on the planet.

Chinese media have documented the travails of domestic travelers this past week with harrowing accounts of lost children, gridlock at popular tourist spots like the Forbidden City and Hangzhou’s scenic West Lake, epic traffic jams along the nation’s expressways, and endless queues for restrooms at roadside gas stations.

Meanwhile, the number of Chinese traveling overseas this week is expected to reach a record 6 million. About 70% will head to destinations in Asia, with Thailand and Japan especially popular this year, according to Ctrip, a leading Chinese online travel service. Chinese travelers are flocking to cities in the United States and Europe as well. Travel industry analysts predict 300,000 Chinese tourists will descend on London this week, an increase of nearly a third over the same period last year.

I’ve remarked previously in this space on the busloads of mainland tourists who now swamp the beachside village where I live in Hong Kong. (Moon Festival in the village this year, I’m told, rivaled the revelries of Woodstock.) I’ve seen a similar surge in Chinese travelers in the tiny town of West Yellowstone, Montana, where my family has a home. West Yellowstone, with about 1,500 hundred permanent residents, now boasts no fewer than seven Chinese restaurants. (The Chinatown, on Madison, offers black-pepper elk and stir-fried buffalo!)

For cities around the world, China’s booming tourist industry offers enormous commercial opportunity. Already China sends more travelers abroad than any other country, and there’s huge room for further growth: only about 4% of Chinese citizens hold passports, compared to about 35% in the U.S. Chinese tourists spent $215 billion abroad last year, 53% more than in 2014, according to a report from the World Travel & Tourism Council. Goldman Sachs estimates that figure will surge to $450 billion by 2025.

Accommodating these new travelers will require adjustments on all sides. Around the world, hotels, airlines, restaurants and luxury retailers are scrambling to cater to Chinese tastes. Beijing, for its part, has stepped up efforts to educate citizens venturing abroad. For example, China’s embassy in Singapore recently issued a pamphlet for mainland tourists with etiquette advice, including this useful tip: “Don’t try to bribe custom officials when you are rejected entry with a valid visa.” The Chinese government has even launched a ‘name-and-shame‘ campaign to blacklist mainland travelers who behave badly.

In the meantime, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post offers a constructive suggestion for easing the strain. In a recent editorial the Post urged China to abandon its policy of mandatory holidays and allow mainland citizens to “take their holidays when they like, not when they are told to.” Not a bad idea.

More news below.

Clay Chandler

Politics and Policy

Lock-down: Beijing has tightened restrictions on Chinese media ahead of the 19th Communist Party Congress set to begin latter this month. Government censors are working overtime and regulators are taking every precaution to ensure financial and economic stability. Steel mills near the capital have been ordered to curtail production to ensure Beijing has blue skies. CNBC

Social media scrub. Facebook has suspended a page on the social media network linked to Guo Wengui and a profile under his name, as both pages had content containing someone else’s personal identifiable information, which violates Facebook’s terms of service. It said the investigations were done following a complaint. New York Times

HNA’s mystery shareholder. Bharat Bhise, the Indian-American who held a 17% interest in troubled conglomerate HNA, has spoken up for the first time. He told the New York Times that he had held the shares for a decade as an "accommodation" to the company’s founders and top management, who wanted to ensure that the shares are transferred over to the charities when they die, and that he was not compensated for doing so.  New York Times

In Xinjiang, the week is not so golden. Residents of the central Xinjiang region in China had to forego the country’s “Golden Week” holiday this week, as Xinjiang authorities abruptly cancelled the week-long holiday for civil servants, state enterprise employees as well as teachers. Some were also told to work weekends and attend ideology classes to “prepare” for the upcoming party congress on Oct 18, as well as deter any “large, medium or small-scale” incidents from happening around then. South China Morning Post

Trade and Economy

A bull on China. The World Bank has raised its economic growth forecasts for China for 2017 and 2018, citing improved external environment and strong domestic demand in the East Asia region. The country is now expected to grow 6.7% in 2017 and 6.4% in 2018, up from 6.1% and 6.2% previously. South China Morning Post

Ford’s new China drive. Ford’s new CEO Jim Hackett plans to rejig the company’s “One Ford” policy to focus on SUVs, trucks and electric vehicles to help it tap on the market in China and other emerging countries. The move in response to the growing push for environmentally friendly cars in China, where, Ford says 70 percent of its sales in China will be either hybrid or electric by 2025. Reuters

Hollywood hoodwinked. China has been underreporting audience figures, screenings and box office ticket sales, the latter by about 9% last year, according to a recent audit by the Motion Picture Association of America, which translates into at least $40 million of forgone revenue for the six Hollywood studios that make up the MPAA. Wall Street Journal

In Case You Missed It

WeChat replaces textbooks in MBA classrooms Financial Times
Can artificial intelligence help Chinese peach farmers raise productivity? BBC
This Billionaire Had an Oscar Dream, but His Hollywood Ending Was Spoiled by China Wall Street Journal
Macau casino stocks dip on lower Golden Week visitor numbers Financial Times
URWork can’t use its name in New York during trademark lawsuit TechNode
Meet the women in tech fighting to shatter China's glass ceiling Guardian

Technology and Innovation

All rolled into one. China’s bike-sharing Mobike and Ofo investors are in early talks to merge the two Chinese bike-sharing unicorns, reports Bloomberg. The companies are backed separately by Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, and merging them to create a single behemoth worth over $4 billion would end a costly competitive battle in the rapidly growing business. Bloomberg

Get real. Chinese Internet users must now register with their real names before being allowed access to websites, phone applications, interactive public platforms and any other news platforms, according to China’s regulators. Companies that allow users to comment on news must also review the comments before publication, and decline, delete or shut user accounts that violate Chinese laws. Global Times

Upsetting the Apple cart. Chinese smartphone maker Huawei has surpassed Apple as the preferred brand for Chinese smartphone users for the first time, according to a survey conducted by the Financial Times. The subdued buzz around the iPhone 8’s launch reflects a larger trend of Apple’s declining popularity in the world’s largest smartphone market, as Huawei and other Chinese brands such as Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi step up their game. Caixin

Summaries by Debbie Yong. @debyong

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