Record number of Chinese travel abroad for Spring Festival

Millions of Chinese broke from tradition and spent their vacations traveling abroad this Spring Festival holiday.

Of the 300 million Chinese who traveled during the weeklong holiday, a record 6 million visited overseas destinations, according to Ctrip.com International Ltd, the nation's largest online travel agency. It is customary for Chinese to visit their hometowns and celebrate Chinese New Year with family.

"Outbound tourism surged this Spring Festival and the number of outbound travelers that we handled tripled last year's total," said Liu Qing, vice-president of Tongcheng Network Technology Co Ltd, China's third-largest online travel agency based in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.

Bookings through Tongcheng for many popular overseas destinations doubled from last year, with several destinations seeing five times the number of bookings this Spring Festival compared with the 2015 holiday break, Liu said.

Chinese travelers also got a leg up on their holiday travel plans, with more than 80 percent booking their trips at least a month in advance, he said.

According to Tongcheng, nearly 30 percent of outbound travelers departed three days before the holiday break, which lasted from Feb 7 to 13, with 70 percent of travelers taking five- to seven-day vacations.

Zhang Han, a 31-year old resident of Beijing who went to Thailand with his wife and parents over the holiday, said traveling overseas during the Spring Festival holiday has become the new Chinese tradition.

"I know some of my friends spent the holiday traveling abroad rather than staying at home," said Zhang, who added that his parents showed surprising enthusiasm for his vacation plans.

"It is a win-win plan for us since we can be with family and my son can travel," said Zhang's 56-year-old father, who lives in Liaoning province.

The top 10 destinations for Chinese travelers this Spring Festival were Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Indonesia, the Maldives, France, Italy, Vietnam and Singapore, according to Tuniu Corp, one of China's largest online travel agencies.

Islands in Southeast Asia accounted for a majority of the most popular destinations, according to Ctrip and the China Tourism Academy.

"The popularity of Southeast Asian islands is directly related to their more relaxed visa policies," said Yan Xin, publicity manager at Ctrip.

Thailand provides multiple-entry visas for up to six months for all foreign travelers, Vietnam reduced its single-entry visa fee from $45 to $25 late last year, while Malaysia has a visa-free policy this year for Chinese travelers from March 1 to Dec 31.