Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is arguably the most important festival in China, of very similar importance as Christmas to the western world. The festival celebrates the beginning of a year, based on the traditional lunisolar calendar. Traditionally, the Chinese New Year celebration lasts for 16 days, spanning from New Year’s Eve until the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first lunisolar month. During Chinese New Year, people usually enjoy a consecutive 7-day holiday, including two relocated weekends, to be spent in a joyful reunion of family and friends. However, for two years, in 2021 and 2022, COVID-19 pandemic-related travel restrictions had prevented many Chinese people from any family visits. In January of 2023, China welcomed the year of the Rabbit without any COVID-19 restrictions for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Amid the pandemic
Each year, the largest human migration in the world occurs around the time of the Chinese New Year. The period when millions of people travel back to their hometowns for family reunions is called “chunyun.” But in 2021, the chunyun was put on hold. The Chinese government discouraged its citizens from taking non-essential trips across the country and urged people to celebrate the Chinese New Year festival where they were. In 2021, around 98 million passengers traveled during the Spring Festival in China and in 2022 - around 130 million people, representing approximately 77 and 69 percent reduction respectively compared to 2019.
Tourism was another industry that suffered from the travel deterrent. China’s tourism typically enjoys a skyrocketed growth for the long holiday, both in international and domestic travel. However, the tourism sector was battered by the coronavirus outbreak at the beginning of 2020. Though the spreading of the pandemic was mostly under control in 2021, the majority of Chinese New Year travelers took only short-haul trips within the same province both in 2021 and 2022.
After dismantling China’s long-standing zero-Covid policy in December of 2022 and lifting any quarantine requirements for visitors coming from abroad in the beginning of 2023, China’s tourism sector entered a new phase. More than 300 million domestic tourists took a trip during the holiday, showing around 23 percent increase compared to the previous year.
Growth in the new normal
One industry’s loss can be another industry’s gain. The Spring Festival in 2021 started a golden season for China’s entertainment providers and online retailers. The number of cinema-goers and box office revenue soared to new heights, as well as the number of online video and social media app users. During the Spring Festival holiday in 2023, Chinese internet users spent nearly two hours a day on short video apps.
While China’s retail sales gradually recovered from the pandemic, an increasing number of consumers switched from in-store shopping to online shopping. The share of online sales jumped from 21 percent to 26 percent during the Spring Festival of 2020 and exceeded 30 percent by 2023.
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Research expert covering e-commerce and FMCG in Greater China