From Harbin to Hainan, China’s tourism boom picks up pace, supporting further economic rebound in 2024

China’s tourism market boom over the three-day New Year’s Day holidays did not end with the holidays. Over the past several days, bustling scenes of tourists enjoying ice and snow activities in Harbin in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province and sunshine in South China’s Hainan Province have become hot topics in China and abroad.

The busy, lively scenes are not limited to Harbin and Hainan. Other parts of China, including Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, are also seeing robust growth in the number of tourists and revenues they generate. The tourism boom is expected to last through the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, which is about a month away, according to travel agencies and experts.

The tourism boom not only illustrates the vitality and potential of China’s consumption market, but also paves the way for the overall economic recovery in 2024, experts said, with some predicting solid economic recovery this year, though further policy measures are needed to tackle pressure and challenges.

On Friday, Harbin officially kicked off its annual International Ice and Snow Festival, declaring a public holiday. The festival also opened along with the launch of the China-France Year of Culture and Tourism, according to a statement from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on Friday.

The opening of the International Ice and Snow Festival comes as Harbin became a sensation for its winter tourism boom since the New Year’s Day holidays, attracting hundreds of millions of views and comments on social media platforms. Video footage of tourists in winter clothes dancing to music in Harbin posted by China Media Group has attracted more than 13.18 million views on Sina Weibo as of Friday afternoon.

While a final tally on attendees at the festival was not yet available on Friday, Harbin has already seen robust numbers. During the three-day New Year’s Day holidays, the city saw about 3.05 million tourist trips and a total tourism revenue of about 5.91 billion yuan ($832 million) – both are historical highs, according to local official data.

Harbin is not alone in seeing a tourism boom. Xinjiang, which has become a top tourist spot in China for its beautiful nature and culture, also saw rapid growth in trips and revenue. During the New Year’s Day holidays, Xinjiang received more than 1.66 million trips, up 195 percent year-on-year, and generated about 1.76 billion yuan in tourism revenue, up 424.3 percent year-on-year, according to local data.

Meanwhile, Hainan, which is known for its warm weather in the winter, also saw growth rates of over 60 percent in both trip numbers and tourism revenue over the New Year’s Day holidays. More importantly, bookings for Hainan for the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year holidays are already picking up pace, according to media reports.

Tourists are seen at Lake Songhua Resort in Jilin City, northeast China's Jilin Province, Dec. 30, 2023. The three-day 2024 New Year holiday started on Saturday in China. (Photo: Xinhua)

Tourists are seen at Lake Songhua Resort in Jilin City, northeast China’s Jilin Province, Dec. 30, 2023. The three-day 2024 New Year holiday started on Saturday in China. (Photo: Xinhua)

Support for economic recovery

“As the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays approach, it is expected that the tourism market nationwide will continue to see a relatively big boom,” Chen Fengying, an economist and former director of the Institute of World Economic Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.

Chen, who was visiting Hainan, said that the tourism market in the province is “very hot” and consumers’ willingness to travel is also “relatively high,” which “will provide support for China’s economic recovery,” she said.

The tourism boom means increased spending and businesses activity for companies in a wide range of areas. For example, after Harbin became a sensation, various companies have seen rapid growth in business. Notably, share prices of Changbai Mountain Tourism Co, which is based in Northeast China’s Jilin Province, surged more than 51 percent over the past five days.

As the ice-and-snow fever continues to grow after the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, China’s winter tourism market is rising rapidly, benefiting areas such as Northeast China and Xinjiang, where ice and snow activities are popular. The China Tourism Academy predicted that during the 2024-2025 ice and snow season, a total of 520 million trips and a revenue of 720 billion yuan are expected.

Cao Heping, an economist at Peking University, said that he has been traveling across the country since the beginning of the year and has seen a robust recovery in the tourism industry.

“The rebound in consumer demand also reflects the development trend of China’s economy. The recovery of consumption has a positive impact on consumer confidence and further boosts economic recovery,” Cao told the Global Times on Friday.

The tourism boom has also lifted expectations among economists for China’s economic recovery in 2024, with many also pointing to ramped up policy measures to boost consumption and other growth drivers.

Yu Yongding, an academic member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a prominent economist, wrote in an article shared with the Global Times on Friday that China’s GDP growth target “should not be lower than 5 percent in 2024.”

Yu also noted that to boost consumption, efforts must be taken to first increase residents’ incomes, and consumption and investment, the two main growth drivers, should be in a virtuous cycle in which they promote each other. The article was first published on the WeChat account of China Finance 40 Forum.

Cao also said that amid challenges such as insufficient demand, policy support should be further intensified in several areas, including using various monetary policy tools to ensure ample liquidity to boost confidence among businesses and consumers, and support for new technologies and new emerging industries should also be increased.

“If all policies are carried out according to plan, I think it’s possible that our GDP growth rate could hit as much as 5.5 percent in 2024,” Cao said.

Global Times

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