After pandemic, Chinese young people decide to "live a little"
"Live in the moment," "seize the day," "carpe diem," and "happiness matters the most."
On Thursday, China's state council held a press conference on epidemic control and prevention during the upcoming spring festival holiday. At the conference, an official from the National Health Commission said that multiple provinces had passed COVID infection peaks, and the number of patients in fever clinics and emergency clinics, as well as the number of severe cases, are steadily dropping. The current wave of infections is reaching an end, especially in big cities.
"Tough challenges remain, but the light of hope is right in front of us," said Chinese President Xi Jinping when he made video calls to people across the country to extend festive greetings a day earlier. The lunar new year is only two days away, and the whole country is ready to start a pandemic-free life.
Some decide to spend the holiday on trips. According to CCAonline.cn, there are more than 128,000 bookings for outbound flights during the Spring Festival, up 90 percent from last year. Compared with shopping, young people prefer paying for "experiences," including travel, live performances, and gym memberships.
Today's newsletter is from Kaiboluocaijing 开菠萝财经, and the article was first published on WeChat on Jan. 6 under the title of Young people "hoard" tickets while waiting for holidays 等放假的年轻人，开始疯狂“囤票” . The blog interviewed a bunch of youngsters to find out how the pandemic influenced consumer behaviors and the shift of people's attitudes toward life. The following is a full translation.
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Chinese young people go on a spending spree after recovering from COVID.
But they are not spending on goods or investments. What empties their wallets and makes them pay in advance, are three types of experiences —— travel, performances, and fitness.
With domestic tourism rebounding and outbound travel restrictions to be lifted, some young people spent 35,000 yuan (about 5,220 U.S. dollars) on 12 plane tickets to the US and Southeast Asia, and seven reservations at resort hotels in China. As live performances and large-scale concerts are under preparation, some have got their "special fund" ready to make up for the lost joy of the past three years. After testing positive for COVID, some realize that workouts are necessary. So they are ready to pay for gyms. Some even spent more than 10,000 yuan on 30 Pilates sessions.
In short, the relaxation of COVID measures, coupled with COVID recoveries, and the beginning of a new year, prompted young people to take a sharp turn in their consumption pattern.
In 2023, more business opportunities may emerge in tourism, in-person entertainment, and the greater health industry. For young people that shore up consumption, the purpose of hoarding tickets, getting VIP memberships at gyms, and paying for sports classes, is to "live in the moment" and "enjoy life to the full."
Go travel: Some spent 35,000 yuan on 12 air tickets and seven reservations at resort hotels in China
On the tenth day Zhang Yue recovered from COVID, she took a high-speed train from Beijing to Weihai, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province.
It was her first trip outside of Beijing in 2022. Although the New Year holiday only lasted three days, and the destination is not so popular, the thought of going out still enthralled her. "I just want to go to the sea, enjoy local delicacies, and stroll in a strange city," she said.
Ruoruo from Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong Province decided to celebrate the New Year with friends in Quanzhou, a city in east China's Fujian Province. They have all just recovered from COVID. "Actually, we live in the same city and often hang out together. But we haven't been on a trip for so long, so we must go out as soon as we can," she said.
Meanwhile, she also booked tickets and hotel rooms for her Spring Festival vacation in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. "I plan to travel to Liuzhou. Staying at a brand new luxury hotel in a tier three city only costs 500 yuan a night, which is less than half of the price in Guangzhou. I think I got a good deal," said Ruoruo in the interview.
[Note: Liuzhou is a prefecture-level city in north-central Guangxi.]
A media survey showed that about 58 percent of young people choose to "go travel" when asked about what they would do after recovering from COVID.
Even if they can't go on a trip for the moment, they are willing to do some "retaliatory consumption" first. Bingqing is from southwest China's Chongqing municipality. She bought digital coupons for hotel rooms in almost all popular tourist attractions in southwest China. "For example, Dali, Lijiang, Xichang, and other places in Guizhou Province and Hainan Province. It cost me 11,775 yuan in total," said Bingqing.
Reservations for resort hotels in different places (Photos are provided by the interviewee)
What excites youngsters more, is long-waited trips abroad
China's authorities have rolled out a set of measures for cross-border travel recently, including "starting from Jan. 8, inbound travelers no longer need mass nucleic testing and quarantines," "resume acceptance and approval of Chinese citizens' applications for ordinary passports for the purposes of tourism and visiting friends abroad," and "reopen the exit-entry permit applications for China's mainland residents to visit the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for tourism and business purposes."
During the Double 11 and Double 12 online shopping festivals in 2022, some travel service platforms and airlines jointly sold "future flights." Users could purchase a card that includes a round-trip flight ticket to a specific destination abroad. Once the government cancels quarantine requirements for inbound visitors, customers must exchange cards for plane tickets in six months.
"I bought it purely for the wish that we could soon travel freely as we did before the pandemic," Bingqing said, adding that her tickets are mainly to Southeast Asia and the US. These are places she has always wanted to go to or somewhere she has visited before but would love to visit again.
Air tickets alone cost her nearly 20,000 yuan. "That includes 1,999 yuan for two round-trip cards with Cambodia Airways, 3,998 yuan for a two-person round-trip to Southeast Asia with Sichuan Airlines, and 5,400 yuan for two round-trip cards to the US with Etihad Airways," she said.
Air tickets for outbound travel (Photo provided by the interviewee)
Bingqing estimated that she had spent about 35,000 yuan on flights and hotel rooms, but she may only use some of the coupons, about one-third of the total money spent. "I paid with Huabei (a cash advance service provided by Ant Group) instead of my own savings. After I redeem the coupons, I repay the loan with money in my bank account. So I'm still free to use money in my bank account now. The bookings are very flexible," she explained.
At the end of December, China Southern Airlines also launched an event called "international trips for early birds," offering round-trip flights from Guangzhou to destinations including Phu Quoc Island and Nha Trang in Vietnam, Chiang Mai, and Phuket Island in Thailand, Bali Island in Indonesia, and Maldives. The price ranged from 840 yuan to 2,240 yuan, not including tax. So far, all the tickets have sold out, though there are more than 80 days before the event ends.
Li Ang lives in Guangzhou. When he saw the notification, he booked the round-trip flight package to Phu Quoc Island, Nha Trang, Phuket Island, and Maldives, respectively. The total expenses were 5,560 yuan. "I may not use all of them, but buying some discounted tickets in advance must be worthwhile, because I will definitely take a trip to some overseas island this year," he said.
Go to live performances: 20,000 yuan for concerts absent in the past three years.
Other than travel, young people will have their beloved live performances back.
In addition to flights and hotel rooms, Bingqing also booked tickets for many live houses, including S53 Super Live, DUI, and Dreamland Music in Chongqing. "I will hang out at live houses and buy beers whether there are performances or not. But I think there will be many performances this year," she said.
[Note: A live house is a venue featuring live music. Compared with a concert in a stadium, the scale is generally much smaller for a live house, with an audience of 200 to 300 people.]
In the past year, live houses in Beijing held few performances. Now they are filled with young people recovering from COVID.
According to Showstart 秀动, a ticket service platform, there are nearly 30 live performances scheduled in Beijing in January. Most tickets have already sold out. Live house performances used to be a night event. But to meet the skyrocketing demand, some places schedule performances in the afternoon at weekends.
Tickets for multiple performances in Beijing have sold out in January (Photo/Showstart APP)
"Pre-sale tickets sold out in moments, and tickets for popular bands are harder to get," said rock 'n' roll fan Zhang Xu. He has been paying close attention to live house tickets in Beijing since last month, including MAO, OMNI SPACE 疆进酒, YUE SPACE 乐空间.
In early January alone, he bought five live performance tickets. "Spring Roses 春日玫瑰 on Jan. 3, Brain Failure 脑浊 on Jan. 6, Zuoxiao Zuzhou 左小祖咒 on Jan. 8, Lost Train 丢火车 on Jan. 9, and Island Mood 岛屿心情 on Jan. 11. The tickets cost me 980 yuan in total," he said. In Zhang's view, those tickets are not that expensive, and live performances are rare, so he has to "seize the opportunity."
Zhouzhou started hoarding tickets for plays and live house performances in 2021. But most shows got canceled due to COVID. Therefore, she was cautious about ticket hoarding. "But for blockbusters, I still set an alarm and fight for a ticket no matter what."
What she wants more, is annual passes to Universal Beijing Resort and Shanghai Disneyland. "Universal Studios Beijing Annual Pass (Preferred) costs 2,288 yuan, and Shanghai Disneyland Sapphire Annual Pass costs 2,399 yuan. A few visits will be enough to cover the cost, and annual passes give me benefits, like discounts at the gift shop and early park entry."
Universal Beijing Resort annual passes
(Photo/Universal Beijing Resort WeChat Mini Program)
Concerts on a larger scale have yet to return, but young people have their wallets ready.
Xiaohan works in Guangzhou. She prepared 15,000 yuan for her idol's concert. "Ever since the tour began six months ago, I've been planning for it. The ticket costs 5,000 to 6,000 yuan from the official channel. But if I can't get it, I will buy the ticket from a scalper, which costs over 10,000 yuan."
"The Taiwanese band I like hasn't been to the mainland for concerts in the past three years. Every time fans asked the lead singer on Weibo (China's Twitter-like platform) when they would resume live concerts in the mainland, he always sidestepped the question. But last December, he gave us a clear answer for the first time: "on it." When Doudou, a girl living in Beijing, saw the reply, she was excited to tears.
For the new year, she set up a "performance fund" for herself. "I saved 20,000 yuan, which would cover concert tickets, transportation fees, and accommodation when I travel to other cities for concerts," said Doudou, adding firmly that in 2023, she would go to all the shows she likes.
12,000 yuan for 30 Pilates sessions that are the best for "rehabilitation."
After a head-to-head "battle" with the virus, many young people put exercises on their to-do lists. Although most of them are still recovering and yet to return to intense workouts, they don't hold back on buying classes and getting memberships in gyms.
Zhouzhou, a fitness enthusiast, has a habit of exercising, attending at least three SUPERMONKY group classes every week. "I topped up 2,000 yuan during the last Double 11 shopping festival, and topped up 500 yuan several times."
[Note: SUPERMONKY is a Chinese gym chain that opens stores in tier-one cities.]
Balance of a SUPERRMONKY membership account
(Photo provided by the interviewee)
In the new year, she plans to set aside some money for "Tieguan," a small gym for more seasoned fitness enthusiasts. "Unlike commercial fitness centers, "Tieguan" has no personal trainers selling services, buy a membership card and the equipment is all yours," explained Zhouzhou. The purpose of lifting weights is to build muscles and improve workout performance, which is different from building muscle endurance and doing cardio in group classes with emotional values. These two types of exercises complement each other.
However, a "Tieguan" membership annual card costs at least 10,000 yuan, and as so many gyms went out of business without giving refunds, she plans to find a gym that allows monthly cards.
Xiaohan invested 2,280 yuan in a half-year card with unlimited classes at a dance studio with the highest ranking [on review platforms] near her home. "Compared to workouts, dancing is more fun and gives me a sense of achievement in learning a skill."
Some people's first "rehabilitation" program after COVID was Pilates.
Pilates is a physical exercise that stretches muscles while controlling breathing. It was originally designed for the recovery of the injured. Many Pilates studios state that Pilates doesn't excessively increase the heart rate, and is the most effective exercise for improving the lymphatic and respiratory systems. Generally, professional Pilates coaches provide one-on-one guidance, monitor the physical conditions of trainees, and adjust workout intensity as needed.
For those who want to improve physical fitness but worry about sports safety after recovering from COVID, Pilates is a perfect choice.
Shanshan lives in Changsha, the capital of central China's Hunan Province. The Pilates studio near her company held a promotion at the end of the year. So she spent 12,000 yuan for 30 personal training lessons there.
"As the fees are nonrefundable, I will be more motivated to go to class," she said half-jokingly.
However, in megacities such as Beijing and Shanghai, a private Pilates session costs 500 to 800 yuan, which is not affordable for white collars. But young people know how to take advantage of the information gap.
Doudou began to do Pilates in the second half of 2022. According to her experience, she can take a trial session at a local Pilates studio when she goes to another city for travel or business. "It basically costs less than 200 yuan," she added.
Recently, she learned that a new Pilates studio opened in her hometown, a tier-three city. So she bought a few sessions through group purchase. She planned to go to the studio when she returns to her hometown for the Spring Festival holiday. The average price of each class is less than half of that in Beijing.
Why are young people who previously proclaimed belt-tightening beginning to spend in advance?
Travel restrictions were not lifted yet, youngsters had air tickets ready. Concerts haven't started selling tickets, they prepared the money first. Workouts have become an essential need, and they get a membership card before going to fitness sessions.
Young people's high enthusiasm for offline experiences in 2023 contrasts sharply with the trend of "consumption downgrade" and "refraining from buying or buying less" which we heard a lot in the past year.
But when it comes to material consumption, they are still as rational and pragmatic as they were in the previous year.
Despite her extravagant spending on air tickets and hotels, Bingqing becomes more economical and cautious about spending on daily necessities than before the pandemic. "When I buy something, I think twice about whether it suits me. If not, I won't buy it. And I return goods not suitable even if they only cost dozens of yuan.
"In the past three years, it was hard to travel far, and there were few offline performances. Shopping was like seeking joy amid hardship. However, things are different now. There are more ways to find joy. Buying goods is less important," said Zhouzhou, adding that she always reminds herself not to fall into the trap of consumerism.
There is the factor of "revenge-buying" when youngsters lavish money on travel, entertainment, and fitness. So they are spending in advance. But more importantly, it's the relaxation of COVID measures, recovery from COVID, and the advent of a new year that brought hope to young people, and now they have a fresh view on consumption.
"If I buy one less piece of clothes, I will have the money for an air ticket; one less makeup product is a step closer to live performances. My heart tells me that going to the beach is more exciting than a new lululemon vest," said Zhouzhou.
Behind paying for the experience, almost every young person we interviewed gave their answers about how they view life after three special years: "Live in the moment," "seize the day," "carpe diem," and "happiness matters the most."