October 1 marks the beginning of the week-long National Day holidays, long considered the golden week for China's tourism industry. Domestic tours remain popular among Chinese mainland residents, but as incomes have risen, more and more mainland travelers are opting to go abroad, though their tastes are changing. The once-popular destinations of Hong Kong and Taiwan have taken a backseat to Japan, South Korea and Thailand. The change has been in part driven by looser visa polices in these neighboring countries, which have also stepped up efforts to attract mainland tourists, whose tastes for traveling have veered from sightseeing and shopping to experiencing local life.
Chinese tourists will continue to flock to neighboring countries and regions for the upcoming National Day holidays, which run from October 1 to October 7, a trend bolstered by rising incomes, looser visa policies and a growing assortment of tour packages offered by domestic travel agencies.
According to page view data on Sunday, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are the most popular overseas destinations for Chinese travelers this year, said Qian Zhen, deputy general manager of Qunar Travel Guides, an application run by the online travel platform qunar.com.
Island tours are the most popular, Qian told the Global Times on Monday. Nearly half of the top 20 destinations are islands such as Phuket in southwestern Thailand and Bali in Indonesia.
"We have organized six group tours to both South Korea and Japan, they were all nearly booked as of Monday," said Lin Lin, deputy director of the outbound tourism department at Xiamen C&D International Travel Service Co.
Japan and South Korea have always been popular because they are beautiful places to visit, said Zhang Lingyun, director of the Tourism Development Academy at Beijing Union University. But they are also inexpensive destinations because they are so close to China.
What's more, overseas resorts may offer better service than many domestic resorts, Zhang said. Many of the former offer Chinese-speaking tour guides and shopping guides.
"And because sales tax rates are lower, Chinese tourists can buy high quality goods for lower prices than on the mainland," Zhang noted.
During the National Day holidays in 2015, the number of Chinese people traveling overseas jumped 11.1 percent to 4 million, domestic news portal chinanews.com reported in October 2015.
It is likely that this year's numbers will beat last year's but tourists may choose nearer destinations rather than the US and European countries as the National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holidays which ran from September 15 to 17 don't fall close enough together for longer vacation.
Wang Xi, a 28-year-old white-collar worker in Beijing said that she plans to visit Japan for 10 days during the upcoming holidays.
"I have been to Japan three times. I plan to enjoy the delicious seafood and buy some cosmetics, china and electronic appliances," Wang told the Global Times Monday. "I've budgeted 30,000 yuan ($4,497) for the trip."
While trips to Japan and South Korea are growing more popular, Chinese travelers have been increasingly turning their backs on the once popular destinations of Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Jason Wong, chairman of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, made a pessimistic prediction about the number of mainland visitors who would travel to Hong Kong during the National Day holidays when he said only 200 to 300 tour groups would visit Hong Kong every day, the Hong Kong-based newspaper Wenweipo reported on Sunday.
Wong attributed the decline to the fact that other destinations had loosened visa policies for Chinese tourists.
In Kenting, a popular destination in southern Taiwan, mainland visitors could be seen everywhere during last year's National Day holidays, when hotels and homestays were booked solid, domestic news portal people.com.cn reported in September, citing Taiwan newspaper United Daily News. This year, 30-50 percent of those same accommodations remain vacant.
Hong Kong and Taiwan have lost their appeal to mainland visitors, said Wei Xiaoan, secretary-general of the China Tourism Leisure Association.
"In past years, shopping was a big draw for mainland tourists, but now many stores in Hong Kong and Taiwan have become unfriendly to visitors from the mainland," Wei told the Global Times Monday.
Zhang, the director, said that he believed the development of other holiday destinations along with stepped-up marketing efforts by South Korea and Japan have also resulted in fewer travelers going to Hong Kong and Taiwan.
China's National Tourism Administration predicts that the number of domestic tourists to foreign countries is expected to hit 62 million this year, up by about 4 percent, according to a report released on its website in August.
Domestic tourists who left the mainland on an international cruise soared by more than 300 percent year-on-year during this year's three-day Mid-Autumn Festival holidays, the administration said, citing data from Lvmama.com, an online travel agency.
Wei noted the growth in overseas tourism has resulted from rising incomes on the mainland. In 2015, China's per capita GDP rose 6.3 percent to 49,351 yuan ($7,398), according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
A growing assortment of tour packages and looser visa policies have also contributed to the growth in the number of mainland tourists going overseas, Wei said.
In 2015, that number grew 9.8 percent to 117 million, according to a report released by the China Tourism Academy and UnionPay International on September 8.
Tourist spending overseas hit $104.5 billion, up 16.6 percent, though the rate was lower than the previous year, the report said.
The report noted a shift in mainland tourists' reasons for traveling overseas. "In the past, they mainly wanted to sightsee and shop, but now more and more tourist want to experience local life," the report wrote.
"In aggregate, Chinese overseas travelers are getting younger," Lin from Xiamen's travel agency noted. And woman are making up a growing proportion of the total.
"Of all overseas tourists, around 60 percent are female."
"As for visitors to South Korea, most of them are in their 20s and 30s. While most tourists to Japan are families," Lin said.
Zhang predicts outbound tourism will continue to grow steadily in the coming years.