A nation on vacation: China's Golden Week holidays begin

Ansuya Harjani, with reporting by Wendy Min in Beijing
Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

Tuesday marks the start of Golden Week in China, a week-long national holiday during which millions of mainlanders set off on vacation, hit the shopping malls and dine out.

This seven-day period, starting from National Day on October 1, will provide a snapshot of how consumers in the world's most populous nation are faring in what has been volatile year for the world's second-largest economy.

"I expect retail sales during this year's Golden Week to be better than last year, because the economy is in better shape," Francis Lun, CEO of GEO Securities told CNBC. Last year, retail sales during the holiday period rose 15 percent on-year, slowing from 17.5 percent growth in the previous year.

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On top of retailers, the nation's tourism sector is expected to get a major boost. Around 7.2 million passengers are forecast to travel by flight during the holiday period, 8.3 percent higher compared with the same period in 2012, according to the Civil Aviation Administration.

In fact, Chinese carriers are adding 3,800 domestic and international flights to the current daily schedule of 12,000 to cope with the travel rush, the Civil Aviation Administration said.

While some travelers venture outside the country to destinations such as Bangkok, South Korea and Cambodia, the majority travel domestically.

Over 610 million people are expected to travel by road and waterway during the week-long period, according to the Ministry of Transport.

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"I'm going with my parents to see my grandparents in Jiangsu province. They live relatively close so we'll drive there. It costs too much to go overseas," said 26-year-old Zhu Qingxia, who is also based in Jiangsu, an eastern coastal province of China.

"Next year, I'm planning a trip to Switzerland. I need to start saving to make that trip happen," she added.

In order to make domestic vacations more affordable, the government lowered ticket prices at 1,400 tourist attractions around the country this year, according to local media reports. Last year, it introduced a rule to suspend highway tolls for passenger cars and motorcycles during the holidays.

The move, however, led to unprecedented traffic, which made global headlines and continues to haunt travelers.

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"I'm not going anywhere. You are asking for trouble if you travel during this break. I'll stay at home and maybe head to the countryside," said 33-year-old Beijing-based Li Jun.

"Cars are convenient, but expect traffic jams. Trains are cheaper and convenient, but good luck with buying tickets. Airplane tickets are the best, but more expensive," she added.

—By CNBC's Ansuya Harjani; Follow her on Twitter @Ansuya_H