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    China’s Biggest Spring Festival in Years, by the Numbers

    The films, trends, and destinations that defined this year’s Lunar New Year holiday.
    Feb 19, 2024#Lunar New Year

    Neither snow nor rain could derail this year’s Spring Festival holiday, as revelers braved tricky conditions to make the eight-day break in honor of the Lunar New Year one of the biggest in years.

    The Year of the Rabbit didn’t go quietly, as a rare blizzard struck central China in early February, freezing many travelers in place. But by the time the holiday officially kicked off on Feb. 10, the weather had cleared and conditions were set for a record box office and travel period.

    Sixth Tone breaks down the headline numbers from a record-breaking, occasionally challenging Lunar New Year holiday.

    A big box office haul…

    After consecutive down years, China’s Spring Festival box office roared back to life this month with a combined 8.05 billion yuan ($1.12 billion) in tickets sold, according to industry platform Beacon Pro.

    It was a much-needed win for filmmakers, as Spring Festival is typically seen as a benchmark for the broader health of China’s film industry. Experts attributed the record to a combination of a longer break and its overlap with Valentine’s Day, which may have pushed more couples to theaters.

    … for a small handful of films.

    However, it wasn’t all good news for the holiday box office slate. This year’s Spring Festival was more top-heavy than ever, with just four of the eight films released accounting for over 97% of ticket sales.

    Leading the way was “Yolo,” featuring a dramatic turn from the actor-director and comedian Jia Ling — who also directed and starred in the 2021 blockbuster “Hi, Mom” — followed closely by “Pegasus 2,” a race car flick from millennial icon Han Han. “Article 20,” Zhang Yimou’s anthology of stories about righteous self-defense, and the family-friendly “Boonie Bears: Time Twist” rounded out the top four.

    At the other end of the spectrum were four films that premiered to such indifference that they were yanked from circulation before the holiday was even over. That includes the Andy Lau vehicle “The Movie Emperor,” whose original release date was pushed back to take advantage of the holiday crowds. Although producers of all four films separately said they would be re-released at a later date, it remains to be seen if audiences will be any more receptive outside the holiday period.

    Homeward bound…

    The runup to this year’s Spring Festival featured some of the worst weather during the holiday travel season since 2008, including a massive blizzard that left much of central China frozen over. But the bad conditions didn’t stop Chinese from making their way home for the holidays, as the country recorded a record 5.4 billion trips during the first 23 days of the travel period, up 14% from the last pre-pandemic year.

    Day-by-day trip data suggests the travel rush is far from over. According to the Ministry of Transport, this year’s holiday season — traditionally the 40 days surrounding the Lunar New Year — could see a staggering 9 billion trips taken across China, triple the previous record.

    … or taking a break?

    Not everyone wants to spend a rare eight-day holiday sitting in their hometowns, of course. This year’s trip data suggests that domestic travel, rather than simply returning home, has become a popular alternative for Chinese looking to make use of their time off work.

    Fittingly, these trips tend to be longer — and take travelers further — than before. Data from booking site shows that orders for inter-provincial trips during this year’s Spring Festival vacation accounted for 57% of all tourism bookings. Likewise, figures from another travel booking site, Fliggy, show that the average length and price of tours booked during this year’s Spring Festival rose by about 10% year over year, with much of the gains due to a rise in middle- and long-distance travel.

    As for where everyone was going, Chinese seemed split between traditional warm-weather destinations along the southern coast, like Guangdong, Hainan, and Fujian provinces, and trendy winter-themed trips to the far north, including Heilongjiang province along the Russian border. Heilongjiang capital Harbin, which experienced a round of viral popularity in late 2023, was an especially popular destination this year, with total trips to the city jumping nearly 14 times from 2023.

    The travel boom even caught some regions off guard. The southern island province of Hainan scrambled to add flights and ferries over the weekend, as tens of thousands of Chinese found themselves stranded.

    (Header image: VCG)