Rich Chinese still pick Japan for holidays

Rich Chinese still pick Japan for holidays

TOKYO - Continued icy relations between Beijing and Tokyo over a territorial dispute have not put off rich Chinese travellers, who picked Japan as their top holiday destination for 2014.

This was found in the latest annual survey by Travelzoo Asia Pacific, a licensee of global Internet media company Travelzoo.

Japan was the choice of 29 per cent of Travelzoo Asia Pacific's Chinese subscribers.

The survey was conducted online from Nov 25 to Dec 15 last year, shortly before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Dec 26 homage to Japan's war dead at the controversial Yasukuni war shrine, which infuriated China and South Korea as they see Yasukuni as a monument to Japan's past militarism.

Affluent, with an annual household income of US$50,000 (S$64,000), Travelzoo's Chinese subscribers are said to be typical of the new generation of Chinese travellers, who not only go abroad frequently but are also well-educated and sophisticated in their tastes.

They lead the region in travel frequency, making 6.5 leisure trips a year and are expected to spend an estimated total of US$8,200 each in 2014.

Shopping for souvenirs for themselves and friends is a top priority for Chinese tourists to Japan.

Beijing resident Liu Yu, 33, visited Tokyo and Sapporo for two weeks last month, his third trip to Japan since 2010.

"I like sports, so I bought sports equipment and shoes. I also bought snow gear as I like skiing," said the executive with a real estate firm.

"My purchases included one of the latest models of Adidas sports shoes which were discounted by as much as 50 per cent in Japan, making them 20-30 per cent cheaper than in China," said Mr Liu, whose total shopping bill came to over 30,000 yuan (S$6,300).

Like most Chinese tourists, he visited the mammoth discount stores in Tokyo which sell everything from tablet devices to beauty products.

His haul included high-definition binoculars, iPhone accessories "as they are cheaper here than in China", as well as Japanese cosmetics and skincare goods for friends.

In the surveys for 2012 and 2013, most of Travelzoo's Chinese subscribers said they preferred to holiday in Australia, their desire to visit Japan dampened by bilateral tensions, especially over Tokyo's 2011 nationalisation of the Senkaku islands, which China calls Diaoyu and also claims.

But Japan has since stepped up efforts to boost its inbound tourism and has also relaxed visa restrictions for affluent Chinese.

"Our discerning Mainland Chinese subscribers are inherently adventurous. They are taking advantage of these new opportunities," said Mr Jason Yap, CEO of Travelzoo Asia Pacific.

"Japan's distinct cuisine and shopping experience are increasingly appealing to China's young and affluent middle class. With its proximity to China and a weak yen, Japan offers good value for money for travellers," he added.

And it would appear that Mr Abe's Yasukuni visit has not made a significant dent, if at all, in the flow of Chinese tourists to Japan. Ginza, Japan's ritziest shopping district, still teems with Chinese tourists, who arrive every day by the busloads.

"After the Senkaku dispute in September 2011, there was a huge drop in Chinese tourists," said a spokesman for the Ginza Merchants' Association.

"But although both countries are going at each other after Mr Abe's recent Yasukuni visit, my impression is that, this time, there are no visible changes where Chinese tourists are concerned," he added.

Chinese tourists have been the top spenders in Japan for three consecutive years till 2012 although they are not the top arrivals by nation, the honour of which goes to South Korea.

In 2012, Chinese tourists spent 269 billion yen (S$3.3 billion), nearly one-quarter of the 1.09 trillion yen spent by all tourists.

Additional reporting by Grace Ng in Beijing

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