China May Day holiday spending shows mixed picture on post-Covid-19 recovery

By Reuters   May 6, 2024 | 03:35 pm PT
China May Day holiday spending shows mixed picture on post-Covid-19 recovery
People walk along Nanluoguxiang alley during the Labor Day holiday in Beijing, China, May 4, 2021. Photo by Reuters
Domestic travelers spent 166.9 billion yuan (S$32 billion) during one of China’s longest breaks, the May Day holiday, a rise of 13.5% from pre-pandemic levels, government data showed on May 6, but expenditure per head lagged 2019 rates.

Boosting consumer confidence has presented a key challenge for the Chinese authorities in 2024 amid a declining property market, high youth unemployment and deflation pressures.

The total spent over the May 1 to 5 holiday was 12.7% higher than in 2023, shortly after China lifted Covid-19 curbs, and the Tourism Ministry recorded 295 million domestic trips during the holiday.

But spending of 565.7 yuan per head during the holiday period, a key opportunity for residents to go on family trips as the weather warms and spring flowers bloom, was down 11.5% from pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, Reuters calculations based on official data show.

The data dampens hopes for rebounding consumption after spending strengthened during another recent holiday, the Tomb Sweeping festival, but was not a surprise, said Mr Jonathan Yan, a Shanghai-based partner at consultancy Roland Berger.

"Overall, I think people are tightening their belts and confidence is subdued, but they still want experience," Mr Yan said, adding that many travelers opted for short-haul overseas destinations such as Japan and Korea for the five-day break.

"They are not spending more money than before, but (are) still traveling while trading down a bit or spending less on shopping," he said.

Domestic airline fares fell in the run-up to the holiday, as forecasts suggested more travellers were opting to drive instead, or had booked early to save.The number of short trips grew noticeably during the break, Guotai Junan Securities said in a research note on May 6.

Growth in the number of trips in small cities and counties outstripped that in big cities, travel giant added.

Box-office sales of 1.53 billion yuan roughly matched the 2023 figure of 1.52 billion over the corresponding period, the China Film Administration said.

Formed Police Unit, a film about the Chinese police on overseas peacekeeping missions for the U.N., topped the holiday box-office charts with earnings of more than 400 million yuan, data from box-office tracker Maoyan showed.

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