Businesses vie for jolly Christmas returns
Christmas in China is increasingly accompanied by the jingling of bells.
But they have less to do with Santa's sleigh than the ringing of cash registers in hotels, restaurants, shopping centres, entertainment places and travel services.
While more and more young Chinese are gearing up for something fancy and special during the Christmas holiday season, businesses are jostling to outdo one another to grab a slice of the festive cake.
Though it is less than 10 days before Christmas, there is a mouthwatering choice of special festive deals from hotels, restaurants and shopping malls crammed to the roof with gift ideas.
As early as the beginning of December, nearly all star-level hotels promoted various Christmas Eve events and diners to attract a spoilt-for-choice population.
Most of the tickets for Christmas celebrations in Beijing's star hotels range from 800 yuan (US$96) per person to 2,000 yuan (US$241) per person, which may seem pricey in ordinary times.
But the tickets receive a hot response during the festive period.
Half of our hotel's tickets have been ordered, according to Tian Zhenwen, manager with the Food and Beverage Department of the Beijing Hotel, a notable five-star hotel along the Chang'an Avenue.
"And 90 per cent of the total have been booked by Chinese people," said Tian.
The highest price, so far, is a VIP ticket of 2,558 yuan (US$308) at the Tianlun Dynasty Hotel, which includes an one-night stay in a luxury suite, a grand dinner and Christmas performances in the hotel.
Insiders say that much higher prices are likely to occur soon, as last year's record in the capital city was 9,999 yuan (US$1,205) at the Huahui Jinrun Hotel.
"Actually, the cost of Christmas dinner, in general, is about 400 yuan (US$48). Most of the rest of the ticket price is used for paying for Christmas performances, decoration and advertisements," said a PR manager of Tianlun Dynasty Hotel, who declined to be named.
The payment for each performer increases six-fold on Christmas Eve. The cost for a Christmas performance ranges from 100,000 yuan (US$12,048) to 300,000 yuan (US$36,145).
And even a luxurious Christmas tree over four metres costs 50,000 yuan (US$6,024).
Shopping centres are also rushing to get a share of the spoils.
"Market promotion for the Festival Season (Christmas is always followed by New Year's Day and Spring Festival) starts from the very beginning of December," said Sun Yulian, manager with the marketing department of Beijing Laitai Flowers and Plants Co Ltd.
For the Laitai vendor market, Christmas really is a season to be merry. Nearly all the goods on sale have a Christmas theme - trees, cards, candles, flowers, toys... the list goes on.
It has been estimated that goods sold in the holiday season make up a third of the total annual profit of many of the businesses there.
"Last year, 22 main Christmas goods sellers in the market took in over 700,000 yuan (US$84,337) just for retail sales in two months around the Christmas season," said Sun.
Travel services, of course, do not want to be left behind. Overseas travel is particularly popular this year.
"I want to experience the true Christmas atmosphere in the West," said Wang Yunli, a 24-year-old office worker, who has booked a trip to seven European nations during the Christmas season.
According to Jiang Peng, a manager with China International Travel Service, more lines newly developed this year and discount prices have lured many Chinese people.
"More and more Chinese people celebrate Christmas as a fresh and romantic occasion to experience something new and different," said Fan Yanru, deputy secretary-general with the retail enterprise committee of the China Commerce Association for General Merchandise.
Chinese people's ebullience for the traditional Western festival is also stimulated by business, which builds up a festive atmosphere. One cannot travel anywhere without hearing Christmas carols or seeing images of Santa Claus pushing merchandise.
But, in contrast to the prosperous businesses, China's Christmas gift manufacturers are rather depressed this year.
Guangdong, one of the major exporters of Christmas gift products in China, witnessed a sharp decline in exports of such products in the peak sales season.
In September, the climactic sales season for gift products, exports were US$12.75 million, a drop of 20 per cent year-on-year, according to official statistics.
Manufacturers and experts attribute the big slump to rising prices of raw materials and declining consumer confidence in the United States.