May Day momentum
By G.P. Wilson  ·  2024-05-11  ·   Source: NO.20 MAY 16, 2024

This year's May Day holiday (May 1-5) experienced a surge in both domestic and outbound travel. While domestic tourism continued its rise, overseas destinations saw a return of Chinese tourists.

Approximately 8.5 million exit and entry trips were made by Chinese nationals during the May Day holiday, a 35.1-percent increase compared to the same period last year, according to the National Immigration Administration.

According to data from Fliggy, one of China's leading travel platforms, outbound travel experienced a peak in bookings during the May Day holiday, with bookings for travel services seeing strong growth of nearly 100 percent compared to the May Day holiday last year.

Data from another online travel agency, Trip.com Group, showed that Chinese tourists traveled to nearly 200 countries and regions around the world during the holiday, covering over 3,000 cities.

Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, Southeast Asian countries, Japan and the Republic of Korea were the most popular destinations for outbound tourism, while Middle Eastern countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia saw rapid growth of Chinese tourists, according to Trip.com.

However, the return of outbound tourism has done little to dampen the continued enthusiasm for domestic travel. Small towns and rural destinations were the trend during this year's holiday, as tourists hit the roads, rails and skies to explore the country. 

According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, approximately 295 million domestic tourism trips were made during the holiday, an increase of 7.6 percent from the May Day holiday last year and 28.2 from the same period in 2019. Tourism expenditure increased by 13.5 percent from the May Day holiday of 2019, reaching approximately 167 billion yuan ($23.5 billion).

Some major tourism hotspots, including Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, saw record growth in domestic tourism. Almost 17 million domestic tourists visited Beijing during the holiday, bringing the capital 19.6 billion yuan ($2.7 billion) in revenue, both records. Overall, however, domestic tourists showed a strong preference for exploring local cultures in non-traditional tourist destinations this year. During the holiday, Trip.com saw hotel bookings in county-level destinations rise by 68 percent and visits to rural areas increase by 42 percent from last year.

Other highlights from the holiday include the nighttime economy, with data from retail and booking platform Meituan showing a 60-percent increase in evening spending on entertainment over last year, and national-level nighttime cultural and tourism destinations recording nearly 72.58 million visitors, an increase of 6.9 percent year on year.

The film industry also set a new holiday record. According to film data platform Beacon, cinemas hosted 2.4 million film screenings over the five-day holiday, a May Day holiday record. Box office takings surpassed 1.5 billion yuan ($210 million), making it the third highest-grossing May Day holiday in history.

While this year's May Day holiday allowed a five-day break from work, it was made up of just one day of official public holiday, Wednesday, May 1. Under China's tiaoxiu, adjusted rest-day, system, two additional holiday days were "borrowed" from surrounding weekends, extending the holiday until Sunday, May 5. Employees were required to work on Sunday, April 28, and Saturday, May 11, to "pay back" the additional two days.

Introduced in 1999, the tiaoxiu system aims to give China's highly mobile workforce the opportunity to return to their hometowns for holidays or to use the time for travel and leisure, stimulating consumption. The system attracts heated public discussion in the lead-up to almost every holiday, with passionate debate regarding the virtues of "borrowing" and "paying back" holiday days, as well as the system's effectiveness in boosting consumption.

Faced with all the debate, the continued year-on-year rise in the number of May Day holiday trips and in tourism revenue is good news. More people willing to spend their travel budgets, either at home or abroad, means each holiday pays greater dividends for local and global economies. 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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