Though financial woes have left Wall Street gloomy, it has not hindered Chinese tourists' enthusiasm to see the Wall Street Bull, the New York City's symbolic statue of financial optimism and prosperity.
During the Spring Festival holiday, starting from Jan. 25, the Big Apple is expected to be a travel hub and shopping paradise for Chinese tourists, due to the economic slowdown and yuan appreciation which have lead to falls in hotel and flight prices, discounted tour package and luxury shopping deals in the United States.
In November a leading domestic travel agency, China International Travel Service (CITS) promoted a nine-day, 17,800-yuan-a-person group tour to the U.S. during the Spring Festival period.
Over 95 percent were booked by mid January, according to the deputy general manager of the CITS's Outbound Department, who called the figure "satisfying".
The U.S. is not the only hot destination for Chinese travelers. Other overseas markets, such as Europe, Australia and Japan will also feel the power of Chinese consumers during the Lunar New Year.
According to Caissa International Travel Services, a well-known European travel agency and wholesaler, almost all its tours are sold out.
"The conditions are more optimistic than we anticipated," said Chen Xiaobing, president of the private travel agency, while adding that Chinese consumers prefer to spend their money on cost-effective and "classic itineraries" rather than high-end products this year.
He said that prices of European packages have dropped due to the softened euro and Chinese tourists regard Europe as the best place to buy luxury products, especially in these economic times.
Last year, Chinese travelers spent an average of 1,359 U.S. dollars apiece on luxury goods in Europe, the highest amount across all destinations, according a survey conducted by Nielson Company and Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).
"With the yuan becoming stronger against the euro, Chinese tourists need to pay only about 80 percent of what they paid for a product last year," said Zhang Hui, president of Tourism Development Research Institute, affiliated with Beijing International Studies University. Zhang predicted that there would be 10 percent more outbound travelers during this Spring Festival holiday than a year ago.
This Lunar New Year, Chinese seem to be releasing a long suppressed desire to travel irrespective of whether there's a financial crisis or not. The blizzards that covered eastern and southern during the 2008 Spring Festival, the May 12 Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympic Games in August of 2008 seem to have held them back from traveling last year.
Hence, they seem to be "liberated" now, with some more eager to travel than before.
Furthermore, the three weeklong national holidays were reduced to two last year in China, thus people treasure the opportunities of Spring Festival more than ever.
Wang Jinyu, marketing manager of a multinational company, said that he and his girlfriend will spend seven days in France for sightseeing and shopping.
"The price of the tour package has gone from over 12,000 yuan per person last February to 10,000-plus yuan. My girlfriend is eyeing premier bags and watches," he said, calculating that, if a bag is priced at 400 euros, he can buy it for around 3,400 yuan now, compared with 4,600 yuan a year earlier.
"It's a good time to travel abroad and another way to save money," the 30-year-something said.
Compared with an expected inbound travel slowdown, analysts said outbound tours are not only expected to be strong during the Spring Festival holiday but also for the whole year.
The latest statistics from National Tourism Administration of China said that about 46 million mainland tourists traveled overseas last year, up 12 percent from 2007 figures.
The administration also predicted that outbound travel would grow by 9 percent to 50 million tourists this year, despite the global recession.
Chen of Caissa said he is confident that consumers will be seeking more cost-effective travel and family tours will be a key factor in supporting the market.
"We have prepared and will further diversify our tours," he said. "We're promoting some new island vacations, wedding tours and family travel packages to meet the demand."
Source: China Daily