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China's Massive Spring Festival Travel Forecast: 3.6 Billion Passenger Trips

Travel chaos in China during last year's Lunar New Year

Photograph by ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Travel chaos in China during last year's Lunar New Year

Once again China is gearing up for the world’s biggest migration of people, the gargantuan transportation surge that comes every year during the 40-day Chinese New Year holiday period. This year, the Chunyun— literally, “Spring Festival Transport”—begins Jan. 16. The most important night for the masses of travelers will fall on the last day of the month, when Chinese gather with their families to celebrate, eat jiaozi, and light firecrackers.

All told, 3.6 billion passenger trips will be made on planes, trains, and automobiles this holiday season, 200 million more than last year, predicted Lian Weiliang, an official at the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s state planning agency, speaking at a press conference.

The vast majority will hit the roads, often riding on China’s crowded long-distance buses. Road transport will make up 3.2 billion trips, up 5.8 percent over last year, and some 80 million a day. Airlines, too, will be weighed down with record numbers of holiday sojourners, with 42 million flights expected over the festive season, up 10 percent from 2013. Finally, passengers will make 258 million trips by train, up about 8 percent over last year. China’s migrant workers and students are rarely able to afford pricier plane tickets, so “there is a big gap between railway transportation capacity and demand,” said Hu Yadong, a deputy general manager at China Railway (390:HK), at the same press conference.

Meanwhile, China’s government officials are being warned not to get too festive during the upcoming holiday. China’s anticorruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, recently issued a notice encouraging whistle-blowing citizens and the media to report “exuberant spending and gift acceptance.” Under the austere headline, “Corrupt officials beware this new year,” Xinua reported:

“Around this period in past years, many officials have spent public funds on extravagant parties and banquets, and received or sent out cash gifts [and] shopping cards as well as fancy physical goods. Many have also attended dinners and other activities at high-end private clubs and recreational facilities at others’ invitations.”

Roberts is Bloomberg Businessweek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter @dtiffroberts.

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