Why Chinese New Year is big business

Happy New Year! The Year of the Horse to be exact, one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac.

The Lunar New Year started this past weekend. And while its roots are in East Asia, Lunar New Year – also known as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, if you prefer – has become large enough around to world to have major economic implications.

The festivities last for several weeks and prompt what has been called the world's largest annual migration of humans, as tens of millions of Chinese board trains, planes, autos and whatever else will get them home for the holiday.

China's Xinhua news agency says that, in the two weeks leading up to the this Lunar New Year's eve, nearly 94.8 million trips were made on the nation's trains alone, up more than 14 percent from the same time period last year. Chinese officials expect about 3.6 billion passenger trips during the 40-day New Year holiday in the People's Republic, up 200 million compared to 2013.

Chinese web services company Baidu has an amazing interactive map, updated several hours each day during the holiday, that tracks the holiday travel across the country.

And that travel isn't cheap. Close to 80 percent of respondents to a recent on-line poll in China said the total costs of going home for the Lunar New Year would cost them more than one month's pay.

International businesses dependent on Chinese manufacturing know this can be a difficult time of year, as well, when it comes to keeping up on production quotas. Much of China essentially shuts down during the Lunar New Year. That means a lot of companies come to a dead stop for at least several days.

As the British website Management Today reports, there are estimates that up to one-third of Chinese factory workers won't return to their places of employment after the holiday.

“If jobs closer to home are on offer and the pay is good, they may be persuaded not to return to their previous job,” it notes. “Indeed, the Chinese government’s current policy of encouraging the spread of economic wealth across the entire country could strengthen the migration effect this year.”

The Lunar New Year has offers a financial windfall in the U.S. as well. The director of a business improvement district in Flushing, Queens, in New York tells the Daily News that about 15 percent of the sprawling neighborhood's annual revenues come during the weeks of the Lunar New Year festivities.

The Lunar New Year is also big business in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Review-Journal says the largest group of international travelers from Asia to Las Vegas come from China. And those Chinese travelers flock to not only the city's casinos but also to its stores. According to the Review-Journal, several shopping centers owned by General Growth Properties have set up Lunar New Year promotions with a Chinese bankcard association in hopes of drawing in thousands of free-spending Chinese tourists.

But if you're concerned about your overall business prospects in the upcoming months, at least one expert in feng shui – the Chinese practice of positioning furniture, buildings and other objects for the best possible “chi” or energy – says this new lunar year is a good year to begin a venture.

"The Year of the...Horse signifies a lot of business opportunities this year,” Master Hanz Cua said during an interview on the ABS-CBN network in the Philippines. And given there is a strong “fire element” to this year, Cua said businesses related to fire – think food-related operations, IT and even finance – should thrive in 2014.

But it's not all good news, according to Master Cua. He warned that people born in the Year of the Tiger should watch their personal belongings in 2014 and avoid being a guarantor, while people born in the Year of the Rat should keep their money in the bank and be careful when signing contracts.

  • Bruce Kennedy

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