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Spring Festival spawns business boom
By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-02-03 05:47

Spring Festival promises to be a blessing for many sectors: a travel boom for tourism, a cash infusion for telecom operators, and a buying spree for retailers.

The country's most important gala which is now just around the corner are portrayed by the Social Survey Institute of China in its latest research, which also finds that a large portion of festival-goers will also eat out.

Indeed, about one-third urban families may choose to fill the nation's eateries on the biggest meal night of the year, rather than dining at home.

The information was gathered by a survey of 2,000 people in areas ranging from Beijing in the north and Guangzhou in the south.

"Some 53 per cent of respondents said they'll spend the week-long vacation at home," said institute staffer Wang Xing.

The rest of those surveyed, she said, are choosing to take tours or will budget their time between February 9 and 15 for activities ranging from reading at libraries or working out at gyms.

Of those planning travel, only 43 per cent preferred a "do-it-yourself" mode, while the majority said they will join groups organized by travel agencies.

Zhao Yuping, an executive with the China International Travel Service, yesterday said she predicted the number of Chinese trekking to Australia, New Zealand and Europe for spring festival will surge by 30 per cent this year, as compared with last season.

"At least 600 people have booked air tickets to fly to those destinations through our agency," she said, adding that most of the outbound tourists plan to visit four to five nations in up to eight days. Among the European and African destinations are France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Egypt, for example. all the "golden weeks" in China National Day, May Day and Lunar New Year celebrations, the Spring Festival holidays are the busiest for travel agencies, she said.

Travel to the tsunami-hit Asian nations during the period may plummet by one-third, she said. In the past such trips were hot.

But with relief and reconstruction work gathering momentum, and more promotions going on, travel to the areas is expected to pick up, experts said.

Domestically, the mass homeward flows for family reunions aside, popular attractions for travel include Harbin and Changchun in the icily cold Northeast, and Yunnan and Xiamen in the perennially warm South, according to the survey.

The Social Survey Institute of China also found Chinese people are leveraging modern gadgets to do one of the most traditional things during the festivity: paying New Year's calls.

Less than half of the respondents said they would visit their friends and relatives to exchange New Year's greetings face to face, while 61 per cent said they would pay a New Year's call by a "thumbnail," meaning to send text messages through mobile phones.

Last Spring Festival, China's telecom operators chalked up turnover of at least 1 billion yuan (US$120 million) in short message services, as subscribers sent 9.8 billion messages during the seven-day holiday.

Industrial insiders said they anticipate revenues from such services to surge this Spring Festival, as the number of mobile phone users in China now exceeds 300 million, up by 40 million from a year ago.

Still, 63 per cent of the surveyed said telephones are their choice for exchanging New Year's wishes.

One-fifth of the surveyed said they will send their New Year's wishes via the Internet. By taking advantage of broadband, some of them will exchange New Year greetings through on-line video phones, the survey found.

As to commodity spending during the revelry, 41 per cent planned to consume up to 3,000 yuan (US$361) during the week. That sum of money translates to a month's pay for many urbanites.

Only 4 per cent expected to use up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,205) for celebrations, according to the survey.

The survey also found 62 per cent said they would have at home the dinner on the Lunar New Year's eve perhaps the most important annual feast for Chinese people.

But the rest said they would have the banquet, which symbolizes family reunions, at restaurants.

Yang Weiwu, a manager with the X.E. Flavour Catering Group, which runs nine restaurant chains in Beijing, yesterday said 130 tables at its headquarters in Haidian District have already been booked by residents for the Lunar New Year's eve dinner.

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