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Economy

Chinese tourists ditch shopping for culture

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Crowds of people at Shanghai Disneyland on Oct.4   © Kyodo

This year's National Day holiday in China saw record numbers of people taking trips at home and abroad, but many Chinese tourists now seem to be shunning the colossal shopping trips they were once renowned for in favor of a bit more rest and relaxation.

More than 30,000 people a day visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in southwestern Sichuan Province during the weeklong holiday beginning on Oct. 1

A police officer commented on his blog that he "could not tell if it was a center for breeding pandas or for people," after directing traffic at the site.

Diversification

Congestion at the newly opened Shanghai Disneyland reached epic proportions during the holiday. One local resident said he had to wait over two hours for a 5-minute ride. "It is more like hell than a magic kingdom," he said.

According to the National Tourism Administration, the number of people traveling domestically and abroad during this year's holiday reached a record 593 million, up 13% from last year. Spending increased 14% to 482.2 billion yuan ($71.1 billion), also a record.

The number of people traveling by train was another record high. On Oct. 7, the last day, traffic jams formed on expressways across the country with the volume of people returning from vacation.

The throngs of people on their way home also threw train stations and airports into a state of complete chaos.

This year, however, was marked by a diversified set of destinations and purposes. Rising income levels and the easing of visa requirements meant there was an increase in the number of people traveling overseas. The number of people visiting Russia doubled from the same period last year, below the numbers visiting South Korea and Japan.

Morocco, Tunisia and Tonga were also popular destinations, each seeing the number of Chinese tourists quadruple from a year ago.

Unease in Hong Kong 

Chinese tourists gained a reputation for being big shoppers and going on group sightseeing tours.

However, the keyword now seems to be "relaxing."

Even when visiting Japan, previously a common destination for mammoth shopping sprees, more people now seem to be opting for activities like trying on kimono or watching fireflies.

"The number of people who want to create memories through extraordinary experiences is increasing," said an official at the China National Tourism Administration, signalling shifting consumption patterns.

However, this has led to a sense of impending crisis in Hong Kong, another traditional shopping mecca.

Coupled with the fall of the yuan, the move away from shopping holidays spells trouble for the territory's retailers.

Sales at jewelry giant Chow Sang Sang Holdings International dropped about 10% year-on-year during the week. Shares of Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group slumped to a four-month low after it announced sales during the July-September period had fallen 30% on Oct. 17.

Cosmetics have also seen a decline in sales.

Exacerbated by the effects of the lower consumption tax rate on cosmetics in China brought in on Oct. 1, sales of beauty products in Hong Kong decreased "between 8% and 9%" in value during the holiday, according to the Cosmetic & Perfumery Association of Hong Kong.

Beijing's Finance Ministry initiated the measure to spur consumption across mainland China.

Although nearly 80% of tourists who visit Hong Kong are Chinese, Rickey Tse, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Tour Operators Association, said, "We cannot rely only on Chinese people."

The number of Chinese traveling abroad over the whole of 2016 is expected to reach around 130 million people, an increase of 12% from 2015, more than the entire population of Japan.

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