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Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important festival in Chinese culture. It is traditionally a time for family reunions, as well as gift exchange between families, friends and business contacts.

In 2016, the Year of the Monkey kicks off on February the 8th.   

Key trends:

  • Boom time for restaurants;
  • Chasing warmer weather;
  • Going ape for monkeys;
  • Can’t have it all.

Commercial opportunities

  • Instead of looking for bargains or traditional gift options, China’s middle-income consumers now opt for quality items that communicate their personal brands and aspired lifestyles, even when they are not the one using them. According to domestic consultation firm Premiere Consulting, the average price per gift item ranges between CNY1,000-3,500 (US$152-US$532);
  • According to a recent survey by MasterCard, with the prevalence of smartphones, 95% of consumers in China now use technology at some point during the shopping process. In Alibaba’s Singles’ Day festival in November, 70% of transactions were completed via mobile.

Background

Modern life has naturally changed some aspects of annual Lunar New Year festivities, but a tendency to splurge on fine food, extravagant fashion items and overseas travels remains. According to data from Bloomberg, in 2015, Chinese consumers undertook 2.8 billion trips during the Chinese New Year period, with close to 5.2 million Chinese – a 10% year-on-year growth in number – taking outbound trips during the holiday, compared with 46.3 million trips of 80km or more from home for Americans during Thanksgiving.

The Lunar New Year is celebrated not only in countries with a large Chinese population like Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, but also throughout the world. In recent years, London’s celebration of the Chinese New Year has become the biggest outside of Asia, with parades, concerts, exhibitions and family events. While the Spring Festival is a 15-day long affair, New Year’s Eve hosts the most important dinner of the year for a Chinese family. Members get together to share their experiences over the past year. “Nowadays many people prefer having the New Year’s Eve dinner in restaurants and hotels”, 67-year-old Shanghai-based folk culture researcher Ou Yue told the Shanghai Daily newspaper.

Boom time for restaurants

Some restaurants in Singapore have been fully booked for Chinese New Year’s Eve several months in advance of the holiday. For instance, Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant in Sheraton Towers Singapore filled its capacity for Chinese New Year Eve dinner in September 2015,  with half the diners having made reservations as early as last February. 41-year Ang Ling Ling, an assistant director at a private firm, told The Sunday Times newspaper: “Although prices at some restaurants have increased, we will still have our reunion dinner out as it saves the hassle of cooking. Besides, it’s a once-a-year treat”. Some, however, opt to stay home, like 51-year-old property agent Jasmine Tan. “It is more worthwhile to spend the money on quality seafood ingredients for a steamboat meal at home. We can eat and chat without worrying about the time limit”, she said.

Real Consumer Expenditure on Food in Singapore: 2011-2016

Real-consumer-expenditure-on-food-in-singapore-2011-2016

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics/Eurostat/UN/OECD

Note: Historical and forecast data based on constant prices and fixed 2014 exchange rates. Data for 2016 is forecast.  

Chasing warmer weather

Australia is set to be the top destination for Chinese travellers this Spring Festival. Beijing-based U-tour International Travel Service has reported a 50% year-on-year rise in its booking for Australia trips as of November. The travel agency’s publicity manager Li Mengran revealed that 80% of the company’s travel products to Australia for the Chinese Lunar New Year period were booked as of early January. The weaker Australian dollar, the Golden Week Holiday in China and the warm Australian weather in February are all contributing factors to this trend, Li said. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of Chinese visitors to Australia in a 12-month period to November 2015 surpassed a million for the first time. The episode of the popular Chinese reality TV show “Where Are We Going, Dad?” filmed in Australia, has also enhanced its appeal to Chinese visitors. Chinese travellers have recently overtaken New Zealanders as Australia’s biggest spending visitors, spending a total of US$21 million a day, reported China Daily USA newspaper. That amount is likely to surge, as Australia may offer multi-entry 10-year visas at the end of this year.

Real Consumer Expenditure on Air Travel in China: 2011-2016

Real-Consumer-expenditure-on-air-travle-in-china-2011-2016

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics/Eurostat/UN/OECD

Note: Historical and forecast data based on constant prices and fixed 2014 exchange rates. Data for 2016 is forecast.

Going ape for monkeys

As with each Chinese New Year, products bearing the animal corresponding to the zodiac for that year are highly sought after. In Hefei City in China’s Anhui Province, 62-year-old Tian Meng anxiously stayed up until midnight recently to make an online reservation for a set of commemorative coins issued by the central bank for the Year of the Monkey. “I usually go to sleep very early at night, but I want to get the coins”, explained the retiree to Xinhua News agency. In Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, at the Festival Commodities Market, the world’s largest wholesale market for small consumer goods, wholesale dealers can be seen selling monkey-themed paintings, scrolls with traditional couplets, toys and lucky charms. “Besides Chinese customers, there are also many foreign clients,” said Liu Qing, a wholesale dealer at the market. Even foreign businesses are cashing in on the fervour, adding primates to imported watches, chocolates and charm bracelets found on e-commerce site Taobao.com. Meanwhile, “Monkey King 2”, the sequel to one of China’s most successful domestic films, will be released on the first day of Spring Festival on February the 8th.

Can’t have it all

This year‘s bonuses for Tet (what the Lunar New Year is known as in Vietnam) in Ho Chi Minh City are expected to be higher than last year, with the average bonus equal to one month’s salary, according to a report by the Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs. While this is welcome news for many workers, Vietnam continues to suffer worsening food safety concerns in the run-up to the Tet Lunar New Year festivities. In December 2015 alone, there were nearly 10 major cases of sellers trying to pass off rotten meat as fresh, with a considerable number of consumers hit by food poisoning. The Hanoi Industry and Trade Department and Ho Chi Minh’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development have promised that they will step up inspections on food production and retail outlets until February the 22nd to safeguard public health during Tet.

Outlook

While the number of Chinese tourists and their spending will peak during the Chinese New Year period, this group of consumers are likely to continue to fuel the travel and retail sectors, especially those in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2015, the surge in Chinese visitor numbers to Japan led to the coining of the new term ‘bakugai’ meaning ‘explosive buying by Chinese tourists’– and data from analyst CiR confirms that this phenomenon will last until at least mid-2016.  CiR adds: “In response, Japanese retailers have changed their retail offer to specifically appeal to Chinese tourists, During the Golden Week holidays in October, 400,000 Chinese tourists were estimated to have spent US$85 million in Japan”.

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