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Economy

Chinese opt for leisure over shopping

DALIAN, China -- Chinese stepped up spending on movies and travel during the Lunar New Year holidays this year, underscoring a growing preference for leisure activities over shopping.

     Box office revenues soared 67% compared with last year to 3 billion yuan ($459 million), according to China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. On Feb. 8, New Year's Day, the tally hit a single-day record of 660 million yuan, with the top three films, including a romantic comedy, accounting for some 90% of the total.

     Revenues for travel businesses rose 16.3% to 365.1 billion yuan, with some 300 million people going on domestic trips, up 15.6% on the year, according to the National Tourism Administration. While the numbers remained flat in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, more scenic destinations with historic sites, such as Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces, drew many people.

     This leisure spending likely was the driver of an 11.2% expansion in retail sales in China during the holidays, to 754 billion yuan.

     Meanwhile, shopping apparently lacked momentum. Commercial establishments selling apparel and household items struggled, except for restaurants. Sales at nine major department stores in Guangzhou shrank 1% on the year. Shopping centers here in Dalian were quiet, too. A clerk at a jewelry store whose sales halved on the year lamented how slow the business was despite the holiday season.

     Spending habits are maturing and becoming more practical in China, mainly in coastal areas. Consumers are taking advantage of cheap prices available online and curbing spending on nonessential items while focusing more on spending time with family and friends. This trend is likely to continue strengthening.

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