While Christmas has not been a part of traditional Chinese culture and is a working day in China, more and more Chinese tourists have been traveling to Finland’s northern province Lapland—“Santa Clause’s home”—to witness the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Polar tourism has become the new darling of China’s high-income population and has attracted a large number of Chinese tourists to the north and south poles.

Ctrip, one China’s largest travel sites, recently released China’s first annual “Chinese Polar Travel Report” shows that the number of Chinese tourists traveling to view the Northern Lights has increased 400% in 2017, compared with 2016. The strong market growth, on the one hand, is due to the Chinese travelers’ pursuit of exotic destinations, more challenging travel locations.

As more and more Chinese tourists visit European countries, Chinese mobile payment app Alipay’s coverage in the region is expanding. Finland’s biggest chain of department stores Stockmann agreed to install Alipay as one of its payment methods on this September preparing for Golden Week, a week-long national holiday in October. Payments made in European stores using the Alipay increased six-fold over in that period. 

Apart from the Polar tourism, there are more business interactions between China and Northern European countries, such as SLUSH, a Finland born international tech conference and more startups from Finland and Iceland starting in China, posing a strong background in games such as Shanghai-based AR, VR game maker Directive Games. Some startups scooped investment from Chinese investors or even got acquired by a Chinese company, such as Supercell whose majority stake was purchased by Tencent, Rightware, which was later acquired by China’s Thundersoft. 

Here are four takeaways from Ctrip’s data.

1. Shanghai people are the dominant Polar-goers

From Ctrip’s data, “the top ten Chinese cities that love polar city travel” were mostly first-tier cities or southern cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, Chongqing, and Changsha.

Finland, Norway, US Alaska, Canada and Iceland rank as the most popular northern lights destinations. According to Ctrip, the world’s six most popular Aurora destinations for Chinese tourists were: Rovaniemi in Finland, China’s Mohe in Heilongjiang province, Reykjavik in Iceland, Alaska in the United States, and Russia Murmansk and Canada Huangdao City.

2.  Elder people love the South Pole, while younger people love the North Pole

Ctrip travel data shows that the age of customers is polarized (get it?). The South Pole and Antarctica travel products were purchased mainly by people over the age of 46, accounting for 58%. Ctrip travel experts suggest that time-consuming consumers choose Antarctic + South America tour itinerary since it takes more than 30 hours to get to South America from China.

On the other hand, the North Pole and Arctic Aurora travel products were mainly purchased by young people born after the 1990s: 19 to 35-year-olds accounted for more than 50% of the customers.

3. China has become Antarctica’s second largest tourist source in the world in 2016

Data released by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators also reflects the strong growth of Chinese outbound tourism. According to the association, China has become Antarctica’s second largest tourist source in the world in 2016, accounting for 12% of some 46,000 total visitors, trailing the United States. Chinese travelers to Antarctica have increased 40 times from less than 100 visitors in 2008 to 3,944 in 2016.

4. Chinese tourists spend RMB 50,000 ($7,500) on average when traveling to polar regions

According to Ctrip’s tourism statistics, tourists who plan to travel to the polar regions for the Spring Festival 2017 and New Year’s Day spent more than RMB 50,000 on tourist products. In terms of consumption, Antarctic products have higher prices, with an average of RMB 100,000 to 200,000 with some direct-to-South Pole and Antarctic luxury cruise products priced at more than RMB 300,000.

Eva Yoo

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at evayoo@technode.com

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