BEIJING (AdAge.com) -- China's economy has positively purred over the past year compared to the rest of the world, with its gross domestic product growth hovering around 8%. But retail stores, airlines and hotels got an extra bump during the first week of October, when the entire country took an eight-day holiday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
The holiday typically lasts one week, a decision made by Chinese leaders years ago when it took migrant workers and students two or three days to travel to their hometowns in rural China by bus or train. Because many Chinese now travel by air and can afford to take sightseeing trips rather than simply trekking home, travel during the holiday has spiraled.
This year, 228 million Chinese left home during the first week of October, a 28.5% increase year-on-year, according to Chinese government statistics, and they spent $14.75 billion on travel, up 26.4%. Beijing was by far the top destination with 15 million visitors, a 59% year-on-year increase, followed by Shanghai, Hangzhou and Chengdu, according to Ctrip, a leading online travel service.
But the real money was made by retailers, which saw sales grow 18% over last year to $83 billion during national week-long sales. What items flew off the shelves? Mostly household electronics and appliances such as high-definition TV sets, digital cameras, mobile telephones and refrigerators. Wedding gifts also helped bump up sales. Official figures aren't available yet, but tens of thousands of couples thought the 60th anniversary holiday was an auspicious time to tie the knot.
This year marked the longest national holiday to date, as it coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival, a lunar holiday that usually falls later in October. Given the extra time off, many Chinese headed overseas. Nearly 600,000 visited Hong Kong, while 420,000 tried their luck in Macau, a casino haven known as Asia's Las Vegas.
Strong spending was just what the government had hoped for. With demand for exports drying up among Western markets, China is eager to see domestic consumption pump cash through the local economy and, in turn, keep factory workers employed and happy. Unemployment among the rural peasant population could lead to social unrest, exactly what the Communist Party doesn't want on modern China's birthday.