Weaker yuan, straining relations dim outlook for weeklong holiday


A tourist walks under the lanterns along a street ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year outside Raohe street Night Market in Taipei on Jan. 18.

A tourist walks under the lanterns along a street ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year outside Raohe street Night Market in Taipei on Jan. 18.

TAIPEI/HONG KONG/SEOUL — The weeklong Lunar New Year holiday season has started in China, and surrounding countries and regions are expecting the usual surge in spending by Chinese tourists. This year, however, things may be different.

According to China’s biggest online travel agency, Shanghai-based Ctrip, the number of Chinese visiting foreign countries during the holiday period this year is expected to level off, at around 6 million, as a weaker yuan has made shopping overseas less advantageous.

The depreciation of the yuan has slowed the growth in the number of Chinese tourists going abroad. A survey found that prices of tours to Asian destinations from China during the Lunar New Year holiday season rose more than 10% after the yuan fell 6.6% against the U.S. dollar.

In addition, the popularity of countries and regions whose relations with China have been strained has sharply dropped among Chinese tourists. The hardest hit may be Taiwan and South Korea.

Taiwan has seen a decline in Chinese tourists since President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party advocates independence for the island, took office last May. Relations between Taipei and Beijing have cooled significantly under Tsai, compared with the eight-year reign of her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou.The number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan during all of 2016 fell to 3.51 million from 4.18 million a year earlier, according to the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau.

“We haven’t been seeing Chinese tourists lining up for visas for Taiwan since mid-2016,” a Taiwanese Tourism Bureau official said. The situation has been improving recently thanks to the approaching Chinese New Year holiday, but “incoming Chinese tourists will still drop substantially from a year ago, for sure,” the official said.

The decline in tourists participating in group tours has been the most noticeable, compared with visits by self-guided Chinese tourists, according to the bureau.

Self-guided Chinese travelers tend to go to different places and eat differently, compared with group tourists. Group tourists visit popular spots such as Sun Moon Lake or Alishan, shop more in souvenir stores, and eat group meals, while self-guided tourists like to visit exotic towns such as Jiufen, Shifen and Pingxi. Independent travelers also spend more time in the southern Taiwanese town of Kenting, enjoying beaches and water activities.

South Korea

South Korea expects 140,000 Chinese tourists will come to the country during the Lunar New Year holidays, an increase of 4% from a year earlier, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.

The country used to be one of Chinese tourists’ most popular destinations. During all of last year, 8.1 million Chinese visited South Korea, up 34.8% from 2015. They accounted for 46.8% of foreign visitors to the country. But growth has slowed, reflecting China’s souring relationship with South Korea over the U.S. military’s introduction of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system on the Korean peninsula. Word in the local tourism industry has it that Chinese government officials have instructed travel agencies to reduce the number of visa applications for South Korea.

The slowing growth in Chinese visitors is worrisome for duty-free shop operators in South Korea. In an attempt to attract Chinese tourists, industry leader Lotte Duty Free has begun giving gifts to all shoppers from greater China at its head store in Seoul if they make purchases worth $1,000 or more.

At Gimhae International Airport in Busan, the Busan Tourism Organization set up a photo zone where tourists can take a photo with a model dressed in Korean royal apparel. The agency will also host welcoming events at the Busan International Passenger Terminal for Chinese tourists arriving on cruise ships. Interpreters and volunteers will be dispatched to the terminal to help them.

In a distinct contrast, Malaysia, which has maintained good relations with Beijing, is enjoying a substantial surge in Chinese tourists.

Thanks to a number of promotions by the Malaysian government, tourist arrivals from China have increased considerably. Between March and December last year, the number reached 2.2 million, compared with 1.2 million during the same period in 2015. That number is expected to increase further as the country looks to draw in more holidaymakers during China’s “golden week” break.

Alibaba Group has launched Alitrip Malaysia Tourism Pavillion, an e-marketplace offering travel products and services.

Following in the footsteps of budget carrier AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines has extended its reach further into China’s second- and third-tier cities. The national flag carrier will start nine new routes in 2017, connecting Malaysian cities to destinations including Haikou, Nanjing, Fuzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu and Chongqing. AirAsia is one of the biggest foreign airlines operating in China, offering over 300 weekly flights.

Retailers in Hong Kong are also feeling the effect of the weaker yuan. Mainland visitors may be back for the Chinese New Year, but their waning spending power is seen as bad news. “Many of them are looking for bargains rather than luxury goods, and shopping for themselves rather than friends and relatives,” said Thomson Cheng Wai-hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association.

Businesses have mixed views on Chinese New Year sales. Retailers are worried about a falling Chinese yuan that discourages spending. The Hong Kong dollar’s peg to the stronger U.S. dollar will make shopping more expensive for mainlanders. “This is negative for us,” said Cheng. Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing expects hotel bookings to be satisfactory, as a recent correction in room rates will partly offset the currency impact for mainland tourists.

In December, Chinese tourist numbers in Hong Kong reversed months of declines to grow 6.1% from a year earlier, led by a 9% spike in mainland arrivals during the four-day Christmas holiday. But recent official statistics show that their average spending per trip was 7,100 Hong Kong dollars ($915) in the first half of last year, down from HK$9,000 in 2014.

“Hong Kong’s tourism industry has entered a period of adjustment,” Gregory So Kam-leung, the territory’s secretary for commerce and economic development, said on Jan. 23. He said the territory would roll out 16 food trucks selling local snacks and international cuisine, in addition to an annual night parade at an estimated cost of HK$33 million, to woo visitors during the week of the Chinese festival.


From : Nikkei Asian Review

Webpage : Taiwan, South Korea feel pinch as Lunar New Year tourism slows