Gold rush: Chinese head out on holiday en masse, skirting Taiwan and Hong Kong

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Chinese tourists take advantage of 'Golden Week' to travel
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Chinese tourists take advantage of 'Golden Week' to travel
Chinese tourists pose for a group photo at the Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, South Korea, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Chinese tourists wearing Korean traditional costumes Hanbok pose for photographs at the Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, South Korea, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Chinese tourists walk in the Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, South Korea, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Chinese tourists look around the Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, South Korea, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Chinese tourists wearing Korean traditional costumes Hanbok jump as they pose for photographs at the Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, South Korea, October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Chinese and Malaysian tourists take photographs of the Sydney Opera House from a viewing area located on Sydney Harbour, Australia, October 4, 2016. Picture taken October 4, 2016. REUTERS/David Gray
Chinese tourists pose underneath a tree as they take photographs of each other on a headland on Sydney Harbour, Australia, October 4, 2016. Picture taken October 4, 2016. REUTERS/David Gray
A tourist walks inside the Independence Square in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
A Chinese tourist holds a Hello Kitty rolling bag as he boards a bus in the Akihabara shopping district, in Tokyo, Japan, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Chinese tourists wait for their bus on a street in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, Japan, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Chinese tourists are pictured outside a luxury store at Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, Japan, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Chinese tourists select rolling bags at Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, Japan, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Chinese tourists embark a boat at a pier at Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists cross a street near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists cross a street near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists wait to embark a boat at a pier at Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand. October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists take a break at Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists wait for a boat at a pier at Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists take selfie next to the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists embark a boat at a pier at Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A group of Chinese tourists take selfie next to the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists wait for a boat at a pier at Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists cross a street near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists cross a street near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Chinese tourists visit in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Chinese tourists visit in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
A Chinese tourist visits in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Chinese tourists visit the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Chinese tourists visit in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Chinese tourists leave from Shuitou pier, where ships run a regular service to the east of China, in Kinmen, Taiwan September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Visitors walk on a bridge on West Lake during China's golden week holiday in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, October 2, 2016. Picture taken October 2, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. CHINA OUT.
People visit a tourism resort during the national golden week holiday in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. CHINA OUT.
Tourists visit the Qingyan Ancient Town on the third day of the seven-day national day holiday, in Guiyang, Guizhou province October 3, 2014. The national day holiday, known by many Chinese as "the Golden Week" for travel, started on October 1 this year, celebrating the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. According to a prediction by the China Tourism Academy, a total of 480 million trips are expected to be made by travellers within these seven days, Xinhua News Agency reported. Picture taken October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: TRAVEL SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA
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BEIJING, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Millions of Chinese tourists are packing their bags for distant and not-too distant shores for the National Day holiday, with early indicators pointing to a slump in bookings for neighboring Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The "Golden Week" break, which starts on Saturday in one of the world's biggest mass movements by plane, boat and train, offers an important snapshot of Chinese holidaymakers and their changing tastes and habits as economic growth at home stutters.

It is also a peak season for retailers outside China looking to lift their top line. Singapore is luring Chinese shoppers with discounts and promotions while South Korea is trumpeting a month-long Korea Grand Sale.

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Shinsegae Duty Free in Seoul's Myeongdong area popular with Chinese has been making preparations since July.

"We are expecting many Chinese tourists, so we think sales will increase a lot," shop official Ahn Joo-yeon told Reuters.

Thailand expects 220,000 Chinese visitors during the break, up about 30 percent from last year, Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters, despite a doubling in visa fees, a spate of bombings in the south of the country and fears of the spread of the Zika virus.

Thailand confirmed on Friday that Zika had caused two cases of microcephaly, a condition that results in babies being born with small heads, the first time the condition had been linked to Zika in Southeast Asia.

"So far there has been no impact (from Zika fears) on our Thailand route," said Wang Yanfei, market and PR manager at Shanghai Spring International Travel Service, the parent of Spring Airlines.

"We will give warnings and tips on our group notices. Team leaders will remind travelers of Zika and mosquito issues before the tour starts."

Thailand's tourism authority said it expects Chinese visitors to spend 7.8 billion baht ($225 million) during the Oct. 1-9 break, up 39 percent from a year earlier.

Total tourist spending in China and by Chinese abroad is expected to surge 13.5 percent to 478 billion yuan ($72 billion) during the holiday, according to China Travel Academy, a government-backed research institute.

That would be four times Iceland's gross domestic product.

But the number of mainland tourists visiting Taiwan, a self-ruled island China considers a breakaway province, has taken a tumble.

The decline reflects deteriorating relations with Communist Party rulers in Beijing since President Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, took office in May.

"WE STILL WELCOME CHINESE TOURISTS"

Chinese tourists traveling alone and in groups during the holiday will slump 50 percent from a year ago to 30,000, Taiwan's tourism bureau said.

"The drop in Chinese tourists numbers is mostly owing to political factors," said Chiu Chui-cheng, a deputy minister of Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's China policymaking body.

"We still welcome Chinese tourists."

China says it is natural its tourists are avoiding Taiwan given the current tensions between the two sides and what Beijing views as Taipei's insensitive handling of a July bus crash, deliberately caused by the driver who set the vehicle on fire, killing 24 Chinese tourists.

Taiwan's tourism bureau does not publish estimates for mainlanders' spending during the holiday. It projects full-year spending of T$110 billion ($3.5 billion) versus T$140 billion for 2015.

A reduced appetite for luxury due to a slower Chinese economy and a crackdown on extravagance has also hit visits to the former British colony of Hong Kong, which has been racked by pro-democracy protests and anti-China sentiment in recent years, infuriating Beijing.

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5 PHOTOS
China's 'bridge to nowhere' to North Korea
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China's 'bridge to nowhere' to North Korea
A general view shows the unfinished New Yalu River bridge that was designed to connect China's Dandong New Zone, Liaoning province, and North Korea's Sinuiju, September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A general view shows North Korean end of the unfinished New Yalu River bridge that was designed to connect China's Dandong New Zone, Liaoning province, and North Korea's Sinuiju, September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
An empty street runs in front of the unfinished New Yalu River bridge (L) and the empty Chinese customs building in Dandong, Liaoning province, China, September 11, 2016. The bridge was designed connect China's Dandong New Zone and North Korea's Sinuiju. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A general view shows the unfinished New Yalu River bridge that was designed to connect China's Dandong New Zone, Liaoning province, and North Korea's Sinuiju, September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Paul Leung, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association, expects a 20-30 percent slide in mainland tour groups from about 300 tours a day last year.

"For tour operators, Golden Week is no longer a golden period," said Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong.

Due to short flight times and looser visa policies, South Korea and Japan have remained popular.

Beijing has protested against a U.S. decision to deploy an advanced anti-missile system in South Korea, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system, to counter missile threats from North Korea. China worries the system's radar will be able to track its own military capabilities.

"There are some travelers putting off going to South Korea because of the THAAD issue," said a sales official at Qucheng Travel Agency in Shanghai.

Still, all the travel groups to South Korea and Japan, with which Beijing has a rocky relationship due to a territorial row and other disputes dating back to World War Two, were sold out at major agencies two months before the holiday.

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