Saturday, May 18, 2024

Lunar New Year Spending Rebounds; China Box Office Record and AI Gives Gifting an Upgrade

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A domestic tourism boom boosts spending across China during the Lunar New Year. Photo credit: Getty Images

Chinese tourists’ payments activity recovered to pre-pandemic levels over the Lunar New Year and artificial intelligence upgraded the Chinese tradition of gifting money, data from payments platform Ant Group said. 

China’s ongoing entertainment boom got another fuel injection over the eight days of public holidays as millions of Chinese relaxed by going to the movies and restaurants or simply staying at home and streaming videos.

The rising tide of moviegoers swept box office takings to a record RMB8.02 billion ($1.11 billion) for the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, according to Alibaba Pictures’ promotion and distribution platform Beacon.

Blockbuster “YOLO” made silver-screen history by raking in the highest movie receipts during the Spring Festival. Chinese comedienne Ling Jia has captivated audiences by directing and starring as an overweight, unemployed woman whose life changes when she starts boxing.

“YOLO,” short for You Only Live Once, drew the highest proportion of female viewers during the holiday period.

Holidaymakers tore themselves away from screens long enough to enjoy major popular culture trends.

Alipay figures show that the 2024 Chinese New Year Eve dinners at restaurants alongside Huanghe Road, featured in the popular TV series “Blossoms Shanghai”, were fully reserved a week before the festival, with transaction volume soaring by 800% year-on-year.

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Travelers at Shanghai Hongqiao railway station in Shanghai, China, on Feb. 6, 2024. Photo credit: Getty Images

Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Macao SAR, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, France, Australia and Canada were the top destinations for Chinese travelers judging by their spending habits on payments app Alipay.

Ant operates the popular app and can gather insights on cross-border travel patterns when consumers use the familiar app on holiday.

Between Feb. 9 and Feb. 12, transactions outside mainland China by Alipay users surpassed their 2019 level by 7% while consumer spending recovered to 82% of its 2019 volume, or 2.4 times that of 2023.

The payments data adds to evidence that Chinese consumers are venturing further afield

Official travel statistics, as well as numbers reported by Alibaba Group’s online travel platform Fliggy show an ongoing recovery in outbound tourism to levels last seen in 2019, before pandemic-related curbs on movement kicked in.

The rebound was helped by a slightly longer run of public holidays, eight days versus the usual seven-day break, a relaxation of visa policies at some Southeast Asia destinations and recovering international flight capacity.

While many Chinese consumers traveled abroad, overseas visitors flocked to the Middle Kingdom.

During CNY 2024, international travelers to China spent 500% more on their international card-enabled Alipay accounts at merchants in the Chinese mainland compared to 2023.

Many of the travelers hopped on local transport to reach out-of-the-way local eateries.

Cross-town transportation volume grew fast, with tourists hopping on rail, taxi, rideshare, car rental, bus, subway and even scooter-share. The cost per ride on any vehicle for Alipay travelers dropped by 60% compared to 2019.

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Photo credit: Getty

Starring Role

Hong Kong-listed Alibaba Pictures has been center stage of a rebound in China’s entertainment scene over the past year and continued its run of hits over the Lunar New Year.

The Hong Kong-listed group co-produced and distributed “YOLO”, a remake of the 2014 Japanese critically acclaimed film “100 Yen Love”.

Alibaba Pictures also participated in the production of other box office winners over the holidays. It co-published “Pegasus 2” which ranked No. 2 at the box office, and also co-produced and distributed “Boonie Bears: Time Twist”, which took third place by movie receipts.

Home movies also had a bumper harvest. People spent nearly a third more time watching movies on their TV and PC screens than they did during last year’s holiday, according to data from online long-form video platform Youku.

Online movie “The Grey Men” exclusively broadcast on Youku has exceeded RMB25 million in box office takings within a fortnight of its release.

Blockbusters revived the fortunes of earlier movies in franchises and films starring the same leading actor. Youku’s data showed “Pegasus” rode on the success of its sequel “Pegasus 2″ jumping up Youku’s movie rankings to become the top trending movie in its library, with a 136% jump in streams compared with before the holiday.

“Pegasus 2” is novelist-turned-director Han Han’s race car comedy “Pegasus,” with comedian Shen Teng returning as Chi Zhang, a former car racing champion turned down-and-out driving instructor.

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International visitors paying with Alipay at a food merchant in China. Photo credit: Ant Group

AI Upgrade

In mainland China, Ant said 2024 is also the first time AI features prominently adopted in online holiday celebrations nationwide.

Over 12 million Alipay users created personalized digital red packets using AI voice and video generation technology on the Alipay platform.

AI features in the app drew 600 million user interactions during Alipay’s signature annual Five Fortune campaign.

“With its use spreading across age and income groups, mobile payment is becoming an increasingly important promoter of local and cross-border commerce in Asia and beyond, ” said Douglas Feagin, Senior Vice President of Ant Group and Head of Alipay+.

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