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Winning and losing destinations during Chinese New Year

Whilst the traditional summer months are becoming more and more important for Chinese international travel, Chinese New Year is still a big sales opportunity for the duty free and travel retail channel and next month operators worldwide will be gearing up for an influx of Chinese travellers. But where will they be going?

Exclusive insight from CiR Business Lounge has examined the outbound trends for this period (Chinese New Year falls on Friday 16 February) and identified the winners and losers by region and by airport.

Europe set for Chinese boost

Growth in Chinese travel in the week of Chinese New Year will rise by +9.6% to Europe, ahead of Asia and the Americas +4.3% and +8.3% respectively, with MEA set to see a decline of -2.2%.

Garry Stasiulevicuis, Founder and President of CiR, comments: “Europe’s share of Chinese outbound is rising, and European duty free retailers stand to gain enormously next month, helped by the fact that 2018 is EU-China Tourism Year. That programme of events launches in Venice this week (19 January).”


Looking more closely at the individual country markets of Europe, the biggest winners next month – among the larger markets – are set to be Switzerland, Finland and Russia with growths of +43.7%, +22.4%, +21.1% respectively. Even higher growth will be seen in small-scale markets such as the Czech Republic and Belgium. Notable losers in Europe will be Austria and Ukraine.

Top 10 European destination countries (Chinese New Year week 2018 v 17)

Among airports the power performers for Chinese passengers will be Brussels BRU (+92.0%), Zurich ZRH (+82.7%) and Prague PRG (+36.4%). The biggest losers in that group will be Madrid MAD (-28.3%) and Milan MXP (-9.5%). 

Asia will be robust but Chinese visitors seek new destinations

In Asia, high growth is expected across more than half of the biggest 15 markets led by Indonesia (+78.5%), Cambodia (+60.8%) and Philippines (+28.9%) whilst a number, including South Korea, are set to see numbers fall.

Stasiulevicuis says “After a tough 2017 in terms of Chinese visitors to the country, South Korea is still languishing in the aftermath of the THAAD missile crisis.”

The top airports in the region show mixed results. Travel to both Hong Kong HKG and Taipei TPE is set to fall -1.1% and -8.6% respectively giving further evidence that the desire to travel to new destinations remains a key factor for Chinese passengers. Elsewhere, some of the strongest gains will come from Thai airports, in particular Bangkok DMK (+26.3%) and Phuket HKT (+17.9%).  

Top 10 Asian airport destinations (Chinese New Year week 2018 v 17)

North America and MEA

In North America growth in the US will see an increase of +9.1% with Canada set to see a small rise in Chinese passengers of +2.2%.

Among the biggest airports for Chinese travellers, it is notable that four are set to see contractions including Seattle SEA (-8.6%), Honolulu HNL (-8.1%) along with the important Chinese hubs of San Francisco SFO and Vancouver YVR at -6.8% and -3.7% respectively. 

Substantial growth will be seen at the key airport gateway, Los Angeles LAX (+23.3%), whilst both New York JFK (+16.4%) and New York EWR (+22.4%) can expect to see considerable increases in Chinese passenger numbers. LAX, which accounts for a fifth of Chinese passengers in the region, has seen numbers boosted by both American and Hainan Airlines increasing seat capacities during February by +99% and +235% respectively. The addition of Xiamen Airlines since June 17 has also aided the uplift.

Top 10 Americas airport destinations (Chinese New Year week 2018 v 17)


Among MEA’s top 10 markets, Israel looks set to be the big winner in the region with growth of +62.7% in February. With the region set to see an overall decline in Chinese arrivals during the New Year period, Ethiopia (+3.9%) & Egypt (+2.0%) are two of a handful of countries set to see Chinese passenger numbers rise, the latter a somewhat surprising inclusion given events of recent years and the safety-conscious nature of the Chinese traveller.

By airport, the picture largely reflects the country gains. Tel Aviv (TLV) is out front with Jeddah JED and Abu Dhabi AUH also strong at +37.4% and +6.9% respectively. Major losers next month will be Algiers, Mauritius, and Muscat.

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NB. All data displayed in this article is based on forecast Chinese departures from China in the week of Chinese New Year in February 2018 versus the same period in 2017 and is correct as of January 2018 but subject to change