Wed, December 02, 2009
Lifestyle > Culture

Cash-strapped expats bring Xmas to Beijing

2009-12-02 02:46:39 GMT2009-12-02 10:46:39 (Beijing Time)  China Daily

German tourist Marian Klug-Li picks Christmas decorations at the Beijing Liangma Flora Market yesterday. [China Daily]

International hotels and ski resorts are preparing for an influx of foreigners choosing to spend Christmas in Beijing this year.

Hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton and the Hilton, are vying to attract foreigners with multi-course traditional Christmas dinners and family activities.

"Obviously because of the financial crisis, people are on more of a budget," said Floria Wun, public relations director for the Ritz-Carlton Beijing. "We are trying to give people more value for their money."

The Ritz has a set dinner on Christmas Eve and a Christmas Eve Gala featuring a buffet, drinks and door prizes.

"We are expecting 80 percent capacity," Wun said.

The Hilton Beijing has a four-course Christmas Eve dinner and a set menu for Christmas day lunch and dinner.

"If you can't get home for Christmas, there is no shortage of places to get a turkey dinner," said Jim Boyce, author of bar blog beijingboyce.com.

"And you can also mix foreign traditions with local cuisine. If you can't get turkey, have Beijing duck. If you can't find candy canes, buy some candied hawthorn on a stick."

Many expatriates get little, if any, time off from work, which means holiday festivities consist of a meal at a nice restaurant or a small gathering with friends who also are unable to leave.

"I don't celebrate holidays here as I would at home," said Barrett Parkman, an American expatriate who works as the international business development manager for a Chinese company.

"In some ways, I forget about the holidays. This year is the first year I have a Christmas tree and it feels like Christmas in my home," he said.

Parkman said it was too expensive to return to the United States for Christmas.

"We are upper middle-class in China, but we don't make enough money to go home more than once a year. The expenses of going back are quite prohibitive," he said.

Meanwhile, ski resorts are another popular excursion for foreigners who cannot get out of the country for Christmas.

"We don't have any special plans for Christmas, but we are expecting more foreign people at that time," said Liu Na, a spokesperson at Nanshan Ski, a popular ski resort outside of Beijing.

"It will look like a small United Nations."

Dale Lawrence, director of corporate communications for the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said good hotel bargains in other countries are available for people who can afford to leave.

"The trend is very much for last minute bookings," Lawrence said.

"Provided you have a job and you have some money and you want to get away for Christmas, you will probably pick up a bargain of a lifetime. There are still some tremendous prices on offer."

However, travel experts said they do not expect airfares to drop as the holiday draws near. And as airlines consolidate their routes to operate at maximum capacities, buying a ticket early is essential.

"Check availability of flights first and then book your hotels," Lawrence said. "People are going to be traveling this Christmas especially after the year we have just had. There is hope that the traditional Christmas and New Year travel will do reasonably well."

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Wang Zheng, a spokesman for British Airways, said the airline had sold 2,000 tickets to international destinations from Beijing during the holiday season.

Peak booking will begin around the second week of December, he said.

Priscilla Lightsey, an American expatriate living in Beijing, said she has purchased tickets to Texas for Christmas.

She said her family would stay in Beijing if they had to but that it is also worth the sacrifice to go home.

"It was more expensive to buy tickets than it has been in the past," Lightsey said. "But it is really important to go home and connect with our family. Beijing has a lot to offer, but we miss our relatives."

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