18 April 2019
An employee holds back passengers at a bus stop outside the main railway station in Hefei
An employee holds back passengers at a bus stop outside the main railway station in Hefei

POLICY WATCH: Time to break with tarnished holiday system?

Twice a year, every year China’s tourist sites and transport systems are swamped by a deluge visitors as the nation’s workers all take the week off. The seven-day breaks in May and October are called golden weeks but they can be anything but a good time for employees trying to make the most of their mandated holidays.   

Mainland employees have long had little choice about when they can take vacations but that could soon change with the expected introduction of a paid leave system that would allow workers to time their own holidays. Analysts say that a flexible annual leave system would free people of the tyranny of the overcrowded scenic sites and highways of the compulsory holidays, encouraging them to spend more on their breaks.   

Retailers are also in favor of the change. One analyst said the shift would boost sales and maintain cash flow during the traditional low seasons, helping drive economic growth.

According to the China National Tourism Administration, 428 million tourists traveled in China over the National Day holiday, adding 223.3 billion yuan (US$36.5 billion) to the industry’s coffers. Major scenic spots come under severe pressure. The Summer Palace in Beijing, for example, had 540,000 visitors in the first five days of the break. 

Elsewhere services buckled. At Sichuan’s Jiuzhaigou World Heritage site, park authorities could not cope with an influx of 40,000 people who came to see the famed pools, valleys and forests. More than 4,000 visitors were stranded in the valley without public transport until 10pm on one night after some tourists lost patience with the transport system and tried to flag down buses.

Such congestion makes it hard for tourists to spend money and enjoy themselves, analysts say.

Zhao Zongfu, chief of Qinghai Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, said the golden weeks had become government-led economic campaigns instead of a chance for workers to relax. He said workers need long leisure breaks but the system must be reorganized to reflect lifestyle changes. Many migrant workers, for example, have settled in cities and no longer need to make frequent trips to their home province, and they want to use their leisure time in a more enjoyable way. Adoption of a paid annual leave system, Zhao said, would bring China in line with many developed countries.

The central government appears to be heeding that call. The Office of the National Holiday Tourism Inter-Ministerial Coordination Meeting, which oversees the nation’s public holiday arrangements, posted a questionnaire on major internet portals on Oct. 10, seeking public feedback on the existing holiday system. The office asked users whether they are satisfied with the current arrangements, and whether the two seven-day golden weeks should be retained.

The questionnaire suggests the central government might be in the mood for a major rethink of the issue.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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