Fostering holiday economy: Traditional items and travel expenditure surge during Qingming Festival

Citizens and tourists visiting Xuanhuamen in Dujiangyan, Chengdu, April 5, 2024. /CFP

Citizens and tourists visiting Xuanhuamen in Dujiangyan, Chengdu, April 5, 2024. /CFP

Editor’s note: Liu Xiangyan is an associate researcher of the Institute of International Studies at the China Tourism Academy. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The Qingming Festival, also known as the Tomb-Sweeping Day, Spring Outing Festival, or Pure Brightness Day (the literal meaning of Qingming), falls on the 15th day after the March equinox in the lunar calendar, usually around April 5 in the Gregorian calendar. It is among the “twenty-four solar terms” and holds significance as a traditional ancestor-worshiping holiday. 

Historically, it was a grand festival second only to the Spring Festival and served as a time for outings and communing with nature. Today, it remains a vital holiday for the Chinese people, officially established as a public holiday since 2008. With the extension of the Qingming holiday to three days, borrowing two days from the weekend, it spanned from April 4 to April 6 this year. During the festival, individuals pay solemn respects at gravesites while bidding farewell to departed loved ones, amidst the backdrop of joyous spring outings and excursions. This unique blend of solemnity and joy defines the essence of the Qingming Festival.

During this three-day festival, there was a noticeable surge in travel activities. Many Chinese returned to their hometowns to pay respects to their ancestors at their tombs, while others opted for leisurely pursuits like nature walks and flower appreciation. Alongside these traditional activities, an increasing number of people took the opportunity to travel, seeking to embrace the spring ambiance and explore the diverse customs and cultures of different destinations.

Consumer research conducted by iiMedia Research revealed interesting insights. Around 66 percent of the respondents expressed the intention to honor their ancestors by visiting their graves, showcasing a deep respect for and continuation of traditional holiday customs. Meanwhile, 36 percent planned spring outings to immerse themselves in nature, and 31 percent were keen on traveling to explore scenic spots. Additionally, 26 percent and 25 percent of the respondents, respectively, preferred to relax at home or engage in camping activities.

Tourists visiting Xuanwu Lake Park in Nanjing, April 5, 2024. /CFP

Tourists visiting Xuanwu Lake Park in Nanjing, April 5, 2024. /CFP

Consequently, expenditures were allocated towards various items, including those required for tomb sweeping, festival foods, outdoor equipment like tents and fishing rods, as well as travel-related expenses such as transportation and accommodation. According to data from the Data Center of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, during the three-day holiday, a total of 119 million domestic tourists traveled nationwide, marking an 11.5 percent increase compared to the same period in 2019. Domestic tourists’ expenditures on travel reached 53.9 billion yuan ($7.4 billion), reflecting a 12.7 percent increase over the 2019 figures.

Travel consumption now reflects diverse choices and personalized preferences. People prefer short trips, nearby excursions, and local outings due to limited time during the Qingming Festival. Road trips, cycling, and hiking are the preferred modes of travel, with road trips also driving growth in the car rental business. Tourist attractions, cultural venues, and suburban leisure spaces bustled with tourists. In addition to popular destinations like Beijing, Nanjing, Wuhan, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, smaller cities such as Tai’an, Zibo, Tianshui, Kaifeng, and Jingdezhen are emerging as tourist hotspots. These off-the-beaten-path destinations offer unique travel experiences at a lower cost. As temperatures rise, various flowers are blooming, leading to the discovery and development of diverse flower-viewing routes, including cherry blossom spots and combinations of rapeseed flowers, pear blossoms, azaleas, and more, catering to flower tourism. Apart from flower-viewing activities, flying kites, picking tea leaves, and planting willows were also popular. The rising popularity of Hanfu in recent years has transformed traditional spring outings into “Hanfu outings,” with young people embracing this trend by wearing Hanfu and other traditional costumes while visiting attractions.

Tourists queuing up at the Pudong International Airport T1 terminal, Shanghai, April 2, 2024. /CFP

Tourists queuing up at the Pudong International Airport T1 terminal, Shanghai, April 2, 2024. /CFP

The international tourism market has displayed a promising recovery in both inbound and outbound travel. During the three-day Qingming Festival holiday, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism reported more than 1 million inbound tourists and 992,000 outbound Chinese tourists. Additionally, there has been a notable increase in the number of overseas compatriots from Southeast Asia and neighboring countries visiting China.

Meanwhile, many Chinese tourists extended their Qingming Festival holiday to 8 days by taking an additional 3 days off, facilitating longer-distance travel. Consequently, a considerable number of Chinese opted for international travel during this period. Popular destinations include Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates.