Fireworks, Family and Festivities: Let’s Travel Asia this Chinese New Year
February 7, 2024
Annouchka Behrmann, Senior Partner, FINN Partners
With an estimated 80 million Chinese passengers projected to fly between January 26 and March 5, the stakes are high for tourism and hospitality this year. Across Asia, destinations, hotels, restaurants and retailers are vying for attention as we usher in the Year of the Dragon.
Hong Kong and mainland China were the last markets to lift travel restrictions, and in this first year of free(ish) flow travel, tourism boards are hopeful that old travel patterns and behaviours will resume. There are many positives: China has now signed visa exemption agreements with 157 countries, of which 22 are mutual visa exemptions, including Singapore and the Maldives. Chinese airlines have committed to adding over 2,500 international flights for the 40-day period, mainly targeting Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea.
Yet most airports and airlines around the region are not yet operating at full capacity – both Hong Kong airport and Cathay Pacific are still only at 55% of their pre-COVID capacity for example. The knock-on effect is the seemingly extortionate cost of flying. People are buying tickets grudgingly, but this will surely moderate potential spend in destination over the CNY period.
Looking around the region, I’m observing a few tactics to entice tourists and capture share of wallet:
Bright Night Lights
There are rich layers of symbolism to Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year: good luck, wealth and prosperity, warding off evil. Hong Kong is leaning into traditions with abundant Flower Markets, the Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade with its eye-catching floats, dragon and lion dancers and of course the Harbour-front fireworks, alongside extended Shenzhen border opening hours to bring in thousands of tourists. The timing of CNY this year, coinciding with Valentine’s Day, is seeing this city literally painted red – and importantly provides the city’s international restaurants a rare opportunity to profit from a celebration that favours more traditional Chinese cuisine.
Taiwan is lighting up the sky with a Lantern Festival in Tainan, integrating traditional lantern art with modern technology. At weekends, visitors can enjoy spectacular nighttime performance with drones, fireworks, light shows, and a breathtaking aerial extravaganza. With tourism links between Taiwan and China still largely frozen, Taiwan is relying on visitors from Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea.
Cooking, dining, and spending time with family is at the heart of this holiday, and while every hotel will offer CNY dine and stay packages, inventive gastronomic events can really tantalize the tastebuds and prompt a reason to book. On the paradise island of Phu Quoc in Vietnam, JW Marriott is promising a culinary experience that goes beyond indulgence. Chefs have been brought together from JW Marriott Hotel Seoul and The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou to curate an exquisite fusion of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean cuisine.
Many luxury hotels re-imagine their afternoon tea offering at this time of year, with insta-worthy tea-time delights, ensuring their outlets are top of mind for local audiences alongside overseas visitors. The Upper House in Hong Kong has collaborated with Shanghai Tang x Jackie Tsai, while Raffles in Singapore’s is showcasing chocolate varietals sourced from diverse corners of the globe, spanning from the Dominican Republic to Belize in Central America.
Lipstick of choice this week? Dragon Rouge. CNY is a time for shopping and gifting, and the stores are full of limited-time red, gold and dragon merchandise alongside a wide range of time-honored auspicious foods and ingredients. Global brands from Burberry to Budweiser have long been launching Chinese New Year special editions.
In Thailand, The Tourism Authority has predicted that almost a million foreign tourists will visit during Chinese New Year, generating an estimated 28 billion baht ($US800m) in revenues. The government’s been working hard to dispel concerns following the shooting in Bangkok last year. The recent marketing campaign “Thais always care” reinforces warmth, hospitality, and safety. Although CNY is not an official holiday, savvy retailers are sending strong signals of the market potential. Leading property developer Central Pattana is investing over $US14m in its CNY promotional activity, which includes installing deity shrines, and transforming shopping centres and department stores into ‘Dragon Kingdoms’.
Last year in China, Chinese New Year gifts transactions reached RMB 1,300 billion. This year, the 2024 Shanghai Online Lunar New Year’s Shopping Festival has kicked off, promising participants a rich and immersive experience, with tempting special offers and discounts. Highlights include themed weeks dedicated showcasing the unique cultural and culinary offerings of countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, alongside promoting regional products from across China.
Power of Partnership
Singapore’s mutual visa exemption with China is timely, kicking in on February 9, the Lunar New Year’s Eve. Visitors can witness a dazzling 1,5000-drone light show along the waterfront, narrating the story of the Dragon King against Singapore’s iconic skyline.
This marks the first event in the revitalization of the Marina Bay area, a noteworthy collaboration between the Singapore Tourism Board, Marina Bay Sands, and United Overseas Bank. When Government, hospitality company and payment provider join forces their combined muscle and promotional dollar can drive inbound tourism, footfall and spend against a very competitive Asia tourism landscape. We can expect to see a series of lifestyle and entertainment events spanning hotels, attractions, retail, and dining, with a marketing campaign that showcases the exceptional experiences available exclusively in Singapore.
Macao is another success story. The government’s long-term strategy to position Macao as a world centre of tourism and leisure has increased tourism numbers to 71.6% of pre-pandemic levels. A condition of awarding new gaming licenses in 2022 was ensuring local employment, developing overseas tourist markets and non-gaming projects, and over the last year the big six casino operators have worked hand in glove with government to bring sizzle and entertainment to town. While tourists have increased, spend is softening. Perhaps the newly opened Parisian luxury department store Galeries Lafayette will tempt shoppers, featuring 10 first-in-Macao brands among its 100 international and designer brands – not forgetting another replica Eiffel Tower to visit.
For all the Asia markets working hard to regenerate tourism, a reminder of the rising sustainability concerns certain destinations were grappling only a few years back. Lunar New Year is not celebrated in Japan, but it’s one of the top travel destinations people are booking for the holiday. In Japan, inbound tourists are now beginning to surpass pre-pandemic levels, especially from South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Concerned about over-tourism, particularly in Tokyo, The Japan National Tourism Organization is on the front foot working with online travel agencies to redirect visitors to rural destinations, such as Tohoku, Okinawa, Setouchi and Shikoku.
Mainland Chinese are expected to make over 6 billion domestic trips and 264 million inbound/outbound trips in 2004, spending US$841billion and US$107 billion respectively. And people are already on the move. We’re monitoring trends and spend closely, this holiday season will set the tone for the year ahead.
Insights via: Reuters, Shenzhen Daily, The Nation Thailand, South China Morning Post, Thai PBS, TAT News, Tainan City Government, International Services Shanghai, The Straits Times, Macao Government Tourism Office, Prestige, Agoda, The Japan Times, iiMedia, China Tourism Academy, Lifestyle Asia.
TAGS: Travel & Hospitality