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    Sun, Sea, and Snow: This Year’s Spring Festival Tourism Trends

    Visa-free policies have increased the attractiveness of Southeast Asia for Chinese tourists.

    The extended holiday period and a spate of recent visa-free travel policies have made tourism a popular choice among Chinese people this Lunar New Year, with exotic locales such as Malaysia’s tropical beaches and the icy landscapes of China’s northeast Heilongjiang province emerging as top vacation destinations.

    Xiao Hua, 30, is spending 11 days in Malaysia, which announced a visa-free policy for Chinese tourists in November. She said she usually celebrates Lunar New Year with her family in her hometown in the southwestern Sichuan province, but the visa-free policy spurred her, and many others, to opt for tourism instead.

    According to leading Chinese travel platform, on the first day of the holiday period on Feb. 10, outbound travel orders to the Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, all of whom have introduced visa-free policies in recent months, increased by over 30% compared to the same period in 2019.

    Beginning on Feb. 10, this year’s Spring Festival period includes eight official days of holiday, the longest ever. Some workers enjoyed nine days off in practice this year as their employers allowed them to also take Lunar New Year’s Eve off.

    Domestic travel has also been a popular option, with demand for “ice and snow” holidays in the country’s northern regions increasing 10 times year on year according to

    The allure of Harbin, which had already emerged as a top domestic tourist destination in late 2023, continued through to the Spring Festival, with travel bookings during the holiday period increasing more than 14 times year on year.

    “None of us had ever been to the Northeast or experienced snow,” said Wang, 37, who went on a self-guided tour to Harbin and Changchun in Jilin province with her husband and their parents. “We were looking forward to experiencing the snow and ice as well as the cultures of the different cities.”

    Cruises have also been a popular choice, with online travel agency Tuniu reporting an uptick in bookings this year for Spring Festival cruise packages, including routes from Shanghai to Japan and Southeast Asia.

    Shanghai resident Dai paid 36,000 yuan ($5,055) for two balcony staterooms on a cruise from Shanghai to Japan and South Korea with her parents this Spring Festival. Though it was pricier than usual, Dai said the trip was worth it as she has limited time to spend with her family during the year.

    “This is the first time I’ve taken my parents out on a trip during Lunar New Year,” she said. “The cruise takes care of food and accommodation, making it hassle-free for me.”

    (Header image: Visitors stroll around the Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Feb. 10, 2024. Vincent Thian/AP photo via VCG)