Despite the record number of Chinese tourists travelling abroad in the past seven days, the overwhelmingly negative coverage in Chinese media of the Golden Week national holiday has once again raised the question of whether it should be replaced by a flexible annual leave system.
“Golden Week is not a good thing for either consumers or tourism,” said Professor Haiyan Song of Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s school of hotel and tourism management. “Every year, it creates problems. This year, we had overcrowding as an issue in particular.”
Numbers released by the Xinhua news agency revealed that 110 high-speed trains commuted between Beijing and Tianjin on October 1, bringing 804,000 visitors to major scenic spots in Tianjin; 98,000 people poured into the Summer Palace in Beijing on October 2; 40,000 tourists occupied Jiuzhaigou Valley, a World Heritage site in southwest China, with 4,000 of them stranded inside the park after shuttle buses failed to show up on schedule.
Golden Week turned out to be a “golden mess”, as Chinese netizens put it. Up until today – the last day of the golden week – the China National Tourism Administration received 247 complaints in total.
Nightmarish scenarios encountered by tourists included visitors to Yunnan province being abandoned in Lijiang by tour guides when they refused to pay up to 380 yuan (HK$480) for meals in Shangri-la. Beijing was covered by heavy smog, highways were jammed with thousands of cars, and flights were cancelled due to Typhoon Fitow. More seriously, a small plane crashed near Saipan, killing two Chinese tourists and injuring four.
In Song’s view, the solution is to implement a paid leave system.
“It is not a priority in the government’s agenda yet, but I think it will be, in three to five years,” he said.
To avoid overcrowded tourism destinations, many decided to stay at home, visiting friends or watching movies, but that didn’t necessarily lead to a relaxing holiday either.
Chongqing Morning Post reported that during the Golden Week, audience needed to book cinema tickets days in advance, otherwise were forced to pay an extra 5 to 10 yuan to buy tickets from scalpers.
An overwhelming amount of weddings was squeezed into the holiday as well, as the week-long holiday provides the perfect opportunity for the bride and bridegroom to spend time with family and friends before the wedding, hold the ceremony and still have time to relax afterwards.
Yang Tao told China News Service that he had been to six weddings within five days. There were three weddings on the same day, and at each one he left a “red envelope” containing wedding money for the newlywed couples.
“The money I gave to the weddings cost my salary this month,” said Yang.
People joked online that the “sweet burden” forces singles into debt, the married into repaying this debt, and newlyweds into asking for payment of the debt.
Despite complaints being raised every year, the Golden Week boosts the economy in popular tourism destinations.
Surveys show that Chinese tourists on average spend £8,000 (HK$99,293) per person in the UK. The increasing amount of Chinese tourists has encouraged sales staff abroad to learn Chinese and design advertisement posters in Chinese as well. In Hong Kong, mainland travellers spend on average HK$6,000 per person a day. On the first day of the holiday this year, it is estimated that 159,681 mainlanders created more than HK$0.9billion in tourism revenue.
Casinos in Macau have also benefitted during the Golden Week, whose revenue has increased by 14 to 17 per cent, according to Kenny Tang Sing-hing, Hong Kong principal researcher at the Financial and Securities Institute of Renmin University of China. On October 1, more than 100,000 tourists travelled from mainland China, an increase of 16 per cent from last year’s figure.
Tung said: “The high spending population has moved to Europe and Japan to shop, but for gambling Macau is the best destination close to China.” He also expects a continuing increase in the gambling industry in Macau.
Song also agreed that Golden Week stimulated the economy, however considering all factors it was hard to conclude that Golden Week was beneficial for the Chinese.
“What Golden Week does is that it huddles together all the [tourists’] requirements within a few days, which dramatically increased pressure on suppliers. But the annual demand for tourism is fixed. So what we should do is to scatter tourists throughout the year.”