Asia spruces up for the Chinese New Year holidays

Tourism destinations in Asia have lined up a vibrant calendar of special events this Chinese New Year (CNY), starting February 10, to welcome holidaymakers during the main celebration days and beyond.

In Singapore, spring marks its arrival with the Dahlia Dream Chinese New Year floral display and River Hongbao carnival at Gardens by the Bay; Chingay Parade, which will put on the largest floor projection ever for a street parade on February 23 and 24; and various festive fun on Sentosa island, such as an underwater dragon dance at S.E.A. Aquarium every afternoon from now till February 25.

Dragon power comes alive at Gardens by the Bay’s Dahlia Dream Chinese New Year floral display

Hong Kong Tourism Board is set to ring in the Year of the Dragon with the Cathay International Chinese New Year Night Parade on February 10 in Tsim Sha Tsui. This head-turner will boast nine floats as well as 13 local and 16 international performing groups – the strongest line-up of performing groups ever. The floats will be stationed post-parade at The Urban Council Centenary Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui for public viewing from February 11 to 25.

Visitors can also catch the 2024 Lunar New Year Fireworks Display on February 11, and the popular and entertaining Chinese New Year Race Meeting 2024 at Sha Tin Racecourse on February 12.

Over in Macau, dual celebrations are in order – CNY will be honoured along with the 25th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Macao SAR. Parades have been planned, with the first taking place on February 12, running from the central district to Macau Fisherman’s Wharf; the second on February 17, covering the northern districts. A new aspect of the annual parade is the extension of the parade route to Macau Fisherman’s Wharf, where performances will be held to invigorate the night-time economy.

Macau’s signature Chinese New Year Fireworks Displays will return with three sessions this year, each lasting 15 minutes over the seafront of Macau Tower on February 12, 16 and 24.

In addition, visitors can look out for various activities, such as lion dances and zodiac mascot meet-and-greets, within community districts; an extended Light up Macao 2023 programme; and public exhibitions of the festive floats at Macau Fisherman’s Wharf from February 13 to 16 and Tap Seac Square from February 18 to 25.

While CNY is not a public holiday in Thailand, commercial players have stepped up to ensure the festive mood is palpable across capital city Bangkok. Entertainment destination IconSiam, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture the Department of Cultural Promotion, the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade of Thailand, and various private sector partners, will throw a grand party from February 7 to 11. Locals and travellers can enjoy traditional rituals and performances along the Chao Phraya River.

Popular retail landmark Siam Paragon has lined up celebrities from China and Thailand to lead locals and visitors through the celebrations from February 8 to 11.

Chinese travel spike
These programmes will entertain holidaymakers from China, many of whom are looking to South-east Asia for their festive break. According to data, outbound travel bookings from China for the upcoming holidays have surpassed last year’s figures by more than tenfold as of mid-January.

The OTA said destinations with friendly visa arrangements, such as Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia, are favoured by Chinese tourists.

Most recently, Singapore and China agreed to a 30-day mutual visa-free entry for their citizens; this policy update will be implemented on February 9.

A surge in festive footfalls from China is expected in Hong Kong, and the authorities have made special crossing arrangements at the borders for the CNY holidays. The Shenzhen Bay Control Point, which usually closes at midnight, will operate round the clock from February 9 to 13; Lo Wu Control Point will remain open till 02.00 on February 9 and 11; and the MTR East Rail Line will be extended correspondingly.

Although Tourism Malaysia has not announced special events for CNY, inbound players are optimistic of a prosperous season. Chinese arrivals are anticipated to peak during the festival. As at press time, approximately 2,000 independent travellers in groups have been confirmed to arrive through major gateways, including Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, Penang, and Langkawi. Group sizes vary, and the numbers exclude FITs who have made their own travel arrangements, shared Mint Leong, president of the Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (MITA).

Leong emphasised that the recent relaxation of visa requirements for Chinese tourists, allowing a stay of up to 30 days without a visa, along with the weakened ringgit, enhances Malaysia’s attractiveness as a destination.

MITA is actively monitoring Chinese arrivals in close collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC). Should there be last-minute demand spikes, a shortage of Mandarin-speaking tourist guides could set in. MOTAC would then issue temporary tourist guide licenses to cope with the situation.

According to Agoda, Malaysia is the third most favoured destination for Chinese tourists looking to celebrate the festivities overseas this year, surpassed only by Thailand and Japan. Chinese tourists particularly favour Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Melaka and Penang.

Also looking to make the most of the upcoming CNY travel season is Ant International, which has expanded its Alipay+ global merchant coverage to drive cross-border mobile payment for Chinese travellers, particularly in key destinations such as Thailand, Japan, and South Korea.

As of January 2024, Alipay+ partner wallets and bank apps include AlipayHK (Hong Kong), GCash (the Philippines), TrueMoney (Thailand), Touch ‘n Go eWallet (Malaysia), OCBC Digital (Singapore), and more.

“2024 will be an exciting year for Alipay+ to unlock many digital innovations in online and offline cross-border commerce,” said Douglas Feagin, president of Alipay+.

“As a global travel phenomenon, Chinese New Year is the perfect moment to kickstart our new range of partnerships, campaigns and product offerings to build a seamless and authentic travel experience and bring more business for merchants large and small,” added Feagin.

To encourage use of the Alipay app among Chinese holidaymakers, Alipay has invested in building market leadership with transparent and competitive exchange rates, free or discounted roaming data packages, and in-app ride-hailing convenience. It has also established special packages with merchants. In South-east Asia, special voucher bundles with up to 90 per cent savings have been prepared, while in Japan, deals with more than 500 street merchants around Mount Fuji in Fujiyoshida and Kawaguchi Lake have been created. – Additional reporting by Prudence Lui and S Puvaneswary

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