More than half of China's population, or 711 million people, were on the move over the National Day holidays, also known as Golden Week, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
Out of 1.38 billion Chinese, about 705 million traveled within the country during the weeklong, nationwide vacation period that ended Oct. 8, the government organization said. Meanwhile, more than 6 million people from nearly 300 Chinese cities ventured overseas.
For those traveling abroad, Thailand topped the list of overseas destinations, followed by Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, according to a report by online travel agency Ctrip.com International Ltd. and government think tank China Tourism Academy.
South Korea saw the most drastic decline in popularity as a foreign travel destination, failing to crack the top 20 after ranking first in the category the previous year. South Korea's inbound tourism woes started in March when Beijing banned package tours to the country following Seoul's decision to deploy a U.S. anti-missile system.
The report said bookings for South Korea during this Golden Week were made largely by individuals and dropped about 70% year over year. "Southeast Asia has become the major beneficiary of South Korea's declining popularity," it said, adding that nations in that region made up six out of the top 10 most popular overseas destinations this year.
Chinese tourists are also exploring more destinations this year, with the number of countries covered in bookings growing to 88 from 68 in 2016, according to the report. Destinations such as Morocco, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Czech Republic, Finland, Austria and Germany were the "dark horses" this year, with bookings increasing more than 50% each over the year-ago period.
This year, China's National Day holiday coincided with the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, which extended Golden Week to eight days. Many Chinese travelers opted to combine the public holidays with annual leave to accommodate long-haul trips to destinations like Europe, according to another report by travel agency eLong Inc. and internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.
More than 54% of outbound Chinese travelers spent 15% more on hotel reservations, favoring brands such as Hyatt, Sofitel and W Hotels & Resorts as they focus more on comfort and experience.
Demographics-wise, females and the younger generation are now China's major consumption drivers, the report said, citing big data collected by Tencent. "With the younger generation becoming a pillar in outbound tourism, Chinese travelers are shifting toward more in-depth experiences from merely sightseeing," it noted, adding that Chinese who embrace travel are also highly interested in areas such as photography, outdoor sports, themed trips and finance.
Seizing the opportunity provided by Chinese tourists, more retailers in foreign countries aligned themselves with popular Chinese mobile payment tools such as WeChat Pay and Alipay this year, Chinese financial news outlet Yicai reported Oct. 7.
Alipay, which is operated by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. affiliate Ant Financial, is available in about 33 countries so far, while Tencent's WeChat Pay has been launched in 13 countries and supports settlements in 12 types of currencies, according to the report.