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Lunar new year holidays likely to see even bigger migration in China

Depreciating yuan not deterring foreign travel though shopping could drop

Railway workers hold back passengers at the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan on the eve of the annual Spring Festival travel rush in central China's Hubei Province on Jan. 12.

BEIJING -- As China's spring festival approaches, research shows that more Chinese are planning a domestic trip than last year, while others seem little affected by the weakening yuan and are taking off overseas.

Spring festival is the biggest holiday celebrated in China, creating a massive human migration as people gather for family reunions and visit different places. Marked by the lunar Chinese calendar, this year's holiday falls between Jan. 27 and Feb. 2.

With migrant workers and students returning home, a total of 2.98 billion trips are expected to be made nationwide between Jan. 13 and Feb. 21, according to a forecast by China's National Development and Reform Commission. The number is a 2.2% increase from last year.

The forecast also suggested that many Chinese people are taking extra days off to supplement their week-long vacation, with estimated travel peaks falling on Jan. 25 -- two days before the holiday begins -- and Feb. 2. While some workers had to request the extra days off, some companies have actively urged their workers to take the time off.

"My company arranged an extra two days off for all workers, so I'm flying back to Nanchang [in southeastern Jiangxi Province] on the 25th," said Wu Delvin, a 26-year-old worker at one of China's largest internet companies in Beijing. His family gets together every year to celebrate the festival, cooking and eating traditional Chinese cuisine like noodles, dumplings and fish. "I am absolutely excited for the reunion -- and delicious home-made food."

While 2% of migrants are chosing to fly, like Wu, the majority -- 84.6% -- of travelers will use the railway, while just 1.4% will go by boat, according to the official data. With the train continuing to be the first pick, getting a ticket is becoming more troublesome.

"Train tickets get sold out very quickly. People buy them one month ahead," said Wu Sophie, a 31-year-old director at a Chinese language school in Beijing. "This is the first time I will spend the holidays in Beijing," she said, instead of returning to her hometown in the central Chinese province of Shanxi.

While many people are remaining in China, others are choosing to spend the holidays overseas. According to popular online booking site, this year's Chinese new year holiday will take more than 6 million Chinese travelers abroad. Their estimate for last year came in just below 6 million.

Declining currency

The foreign travel frenzy is continuing against the backdrop of a decline in the nation's currency. Last year, the Chinese yuan depreciated more than 6% against the U.S. dollar.

"I made a trip plan based on where I want to go, so the exchange rate doesn't really influence my decision," said Liu Brenda, a 27-year-old financial adviser working in Beijing. She and her family are planning to spend a week in Bali, Indonesia.

The weaker yuan is apparently not yet preventing Chinese from making travel plans. According to Ctrip, the U.S. has moved up its position as the third most popular destination for Chinese tourists this year, moving up from sixth place last year. Tours that include watching a National Basketball Association game, visiting Hawaii's coastal areas and visiting Ivy League universities are very popular, according to the online booking site.

Thailand came in as the top destination for the spring holiday this year, followed by Japan, the U.S., Singapore, and Australia. Last year, Japan was the most popular destination, followed by the Maldives, Thailand, Australia and Iceland.

Although the declining yuan seems to have had little impact on travel plans so far, this might change. "The currency exchange rate does influence my shopping plan. I will spend less if the Chinese yuan will be weaker," said Liu. The average spending of a Chinese tourist is expected to exceed 15,000 yuan ($2,181) during this spring festival according to Ctrip.

Qu Jing, a 28-year-old journalist working in Beijing, said that a further decline in the yuan might influence her decision. Although she is planning on going to the U.S., "I may consider other countries due to the exchange rate." If the Japanese yen depreciates against the yuan, "I might choose Japan over other places when planning a trip."

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