BEIJING- Hotels and restaurants in China's big cities are bracing for a rush of guests over the Lunar New Year as people forced by COVID-19 curbs to give up plans to go home for family re-unions opt instead to stay put and celebrate in other ways.
The week-long holiday, which begins on Monday, is a peak travel period in China with millions heading home from the cities they work in to celebrate with families.
But local governments are advising people not to go anywhere because of a spate of new COVID-19 clusters, with some authorities making people arriving in their hometowns go into quarantine.
Authorities have estimated that, based on numbers from 36 cities, that 48 million people who travelled during the Lunar New Year last year will stay put this time.
This has meant that many restaurants in big cities, which usually close for the holiday as all their staff head home, are staying open.
Hotels are seeing an increase in bookings, travel agencies and hotel companies said, especially from customers keen to treat themselves to a little luxury.
"The more expensive the room is, the quicker it's booked out," said travel search engine Qunar.com, adding that it had seen hotel bookings for the Lunar New Year period triple compared with last year.
Occupancy for the InterContinental Hotels Group IHG.L is also up across China compared with the holiday last year, the company's Greater China Chief Operating Officer Jerome Qiu told Reuters.
"The third and fourth days of the holiday period are normally peak demand," Qiu said. "Based on the current pattern, this year's strong performance may cover a longer period starting from the New Year's Eve."
MONEY TO SPEND
Over the Lunar New Year holiday last year, from Feb. 11 to Feb. 17, Chinese consumers spent 821 billion yuan on retail and catering, up 28.7% from the holiday in COVID-ravaged 2020 and up 4.9% from 2019.
Iris Pang, chief economist for Greater China at ING, said she was expecting a 10% increase in spending from last year, saying that the COVID situation was not severe enough to stop people from getting their wallets out.
"Even if people can't travel, they still have money to spend if they don't spend it on transport," she said.
"Some people are saving their December spending for the Chinese New Year, so spending may surprise on the upside," Pang said.
A spending surge would give a short-term boost to consumption, which has been flagging in recent months as the economy slowed. In December, retail sales rose 1.7% from a year earlier, the slowest monthly pace in 2021, according to official data.
Media worker, Pan Lei, 47, is among Beijing residents staying put and planning to splash out a little.
Instead of the usual trip to the southern city of Guangzhou to spend the holiday with his parents-in-law, he has booked a boutique hotel in the mountains to the west of Beijing at a cost of nearly 5,000 yuan ($788).
"Normally, the price is less than 2,000 yuan but I've got no choice," he said. "All hotels around Beijing are expensive during the holiday."
"It's the Lunar New Year and I want the family to do something special and have fun together," he said. ($1 = 6.3447 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Sophie Yu, Ryan Woo, and Brenda Goh Editing by Robert Birsel) ((Sophie.Yu@thomsonreuters.com; 861056692136;))