One of the easiest predictions to make about the Year of Goat is that wealthy Chinese tourists will spend even more on shopping sprees around the world.
Mainland tourists are in the spotlight this Lunar New Year for spending big money all over the world, buying up Japanese toilet seats, French handbags and so on, during their weeklong holiday.
More than five million of them are believed to have traveled abroad during the Spring Festival, a holiday usually devoted to family gatherings, the China Tourism Academy said.
For the first time, outbound tourists outnumbered domestic tourists, who the academy estimated would bring 140 billion yuan (US$22.4 billion) in revenues to the Chinese tourism industry.
South Korea (15.6 percent), Thailand (13.9 percent) and Japan (8.7 percent) were the top three destinations for outbound travelers.
As the number of wealthier Chinese grows, the strength of the renminbi relative to currencies in the region and the euro, provides them with an extra incentive to travel.
China Daily, a state-run newspaper, splashed its story about mainland tourists “going out” and said “overseas retailers, department stores, electronic shops and luxury boutiques have been cashing in”.
In Japan, many stores were sold out of rice cookers, toilet seats and digital cameras, Japanese media reported.
Chinese have become the biggest spenders in Japan, accounting for a quarter of the US$17 billion of tourist spending last year, or about US$2,000 each, Japan Tourism Agency figures show.
The Washington Post said the tourists travel to Japan not just for the shopping and sushi but also for the fresh air, scarce in smoggy Beijing and Shanghai.
Britain and France are also enjoying the windfall from the East.
China Daily said the famed British department store Harrods has opened a new 90-seat Chinese restaurant on its fifth floor that serves Peking duck.
And in France, some politicians are lobbying to extend Sunday opening hours to cater to the influx of Chinese travelers.
Who does not care for money? Sooner or later, however, they may discover that the other side of the coin – as widely reported in Hong Kong in the last few years – is the manners of the Chinese tourists, or the lack thereof.
While more mainland tourists went abroad, fewer came to Hong Kong.
Travel Industry Council figures show that 675,000 mainlanders entered Hong Kong during the five-day Lunar New Year public holiday, down 0.16 per cent from last year — the first drop in nearly 20 years.
While Macau still registered a slight growth in the number of mainland visitors during the Lunar New Year, the casino and retail stocks that used to benefit from the influx of wealthy Chinese tourists are facing heavy selling pressure from investors.
China’s outbound tourism is reaching new levels a decade after the start of the country’s open-door policy for travelers.
Hongkongers should feel relieved that other countries are sharing this big burden, which has bothered many locals for years — a classic case of no pain, no gain.
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