BEIJING • Millions of Chinese tourists are packing their bags for distant and not-too distant shores for the National Day holiday, with early indicators pointing to a slump in bookings for neighbouring Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The "Golden Week" break, which starts today in one of the world's biggest mass movements by plane, boat and train, offers an important snapshot of Chinese holidaymakers and their changing tastes and habits as economic growth at home stutters. It is also a peak season for retailers outside China looking to lift their top line.
Singapore is luring Chinese shoppers with discounts and promotions while South Korea is trumpeting a month-long Korea Grand Sale.
Shinsegae Duty Free in Seoul's Myeongdong area, popular with Chinese, has been making preparations since July. "We are expecting many Chinese tourists, so we think sales will increase a lot," shop official Ahn Joo Yeon told Reuters.
Thailand expects 220,000 Chinese visitors during the break, up about 30 per cent from last year, Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters. Thailand's tourism authority said it expects Chinese visitors to spend 7.8 billion baht (S$307 million) during the holiday, up 39 per cent from a year earlier.
Total tourist spending in China and by Chinese abroad is expected to surge 13.5 per cent to 478 billion yuan (S$98 billion) during the holiday, according to the China Travel Academy, a government-backed research institute.
But the number of mainland tourists visiting Taiwan has taken a tumble. The decline reflects deteriorating relations with Communist Party rulers in Beijing since President Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, took office in May.
Chinese tourists travelling alone and in groups during the holiday will slump 50 per cent from a year ago to 30,000, Taiwan's Tourism Bureau said. It does not publish estimates for mainlanders' spending during the holiday. It projects full-year spending of NT$110 billion (S$4.8 billion) this year versus NT$140 billion for 2015.
A reduced appetite for luxury due to a slower Chinese economy and a crackdown on extravagance has also hit visits to Hong Kong, which has been racked by pro-democracy protests and anti-China sentiment in recent years, infuriating Beijing.
Mr Paul Leung, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association, expects a 20 to 30 per cent slide in mainland tour groups from about 300 tours a day last year.
"For tour operators, Golden Week is no longer a golden period," said Mr Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong.
Due to short flight times and looser visa policies, South Korea and Japan have remained popular.
Beijing has protested against a US decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system in South Korea in order to counter missile threats from North Korea.
China worries the system's radar will be able to track its own military capabilities. "There are some travellers putting off going to South Korea because of the Thaad issue," said a sales official at Qucheng Travel Agency in Shanghai.
Still, all the group travel packages to South Korea and Japan, with which Beijing has a rocky relationship due to a territorial row and other disputes dating back to World War II, were sold out at major agencies two months before the holiday.