Chinese tourists may have made headlines last year for their embarrassing behavior but with outbound tourists projected to double over the next six years, countries are likely to welcome their renminbi with open arms. According to a new report by CLSA, the number of mainlanders traveling abroad is expected to hit a whopping 200 million per year by 2020, double last year’s figure. As personal income levels in China grow, travel is increasingly becoming the preferred outlet for the newly monied middle class. By 2020, CLSA predicts 27 provinces will see per-capita gross domestic product spending top $8,000, up from only 10 provinces in 2012.
Asia to shine
The Asia-Pacific region stands to benefit the most from China’s travel boom, with Hong Kong and Macau expected to be the top international destinations due to their large-scale entertainment and gaming complexes.
“We’ve done a survey of 41 cities in China and people say they want to go sightseeing or experience different cultures, but ultimately all they want to do is shop and gamble,” said Aaron Fischer, CLSA’s head of consumer and gaming research.
That momentum was also reflected in a new report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which showed Asia-Pacific had the strongest demand for international tourism in 2013, surpassing both Europe and the U.S. According to Expedia Asia, Japan remains the top pick among Chinese travelers for the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays due to the yen’s weakness.
“Intra-Asian travelling is hot; we see lots of people travelling shorter destinations. With the LCC [low-cost carrier] phenomenon in Southeast Asia, you also see younger people travelling,” Kathleen Tan, CEO of Expedia Asia told CNBC’s “The Call” last week.
CLSA points out that geographical proximity also plays a big role for Chinese travelers:
“The cost of long-haul travel and limited annual leave will ensure Asian countries continue to benefit the most from mainland tourism growth. Survey respondents who plan to travel stated, in order of preference, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore as their top destinations in the next three years,” wrote CLSA analysts.
Those cities were also listed under Expedia’s list of top destinations but CLSA’s Fisher told CNBC that recent political instability in Bangkok has seen a pullback in arrivals. Outside of Asia, the U.S. and France are also expected to see strong inflows with CLSA’s survey respondents citing both countries as their dream destinations.
Profiting from the travel bug
In CLSA’s survey of 1,000 Chinese travelers, 67 percent intend to increase their travel budget within the next year. So, where should investors look in order to tap into this newfound wealth?
“We still think gaming is the best way to play the Chinese tourist story. Our top picks are Melco Crown, [and] Las Vegas Sands. But we also like other names like Wynn, SJM and regional stocks like Traveller’s International,” Fisher concluded.