Take a flight from Bangkok to the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, and you may notice something unexpected at meal time – the menus are printed in Mandarin. It is likely to become a more common sight, as millions of Chinese tourists flock to ever farther corners of the globe, writes Josh Noble in Hong Kong.
Airline and hotel operators are not the only ones taking note – investors are looking to tap China’s money belt too.
The appetite was clear in November, when online travel agent Qunar completed its listing on Nasdaq, and nearly doubled on its first day of trade.
The arrival of Chinese tourists on foreign shores is not a new phenomenon, but it appears to be gathering pace. Estimates suggest 100m mainlanders packed their suitcases for overseas jaunts in 2013, up from fewer than 60m in 2010.
According to CLSA analyst Aaron Fischer, the moment where per capita gross domestic product surpasses $8,000 is the “tipping point” after which tourism growth accelerates, based on previous experience in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
China currently has a GDP per head of about $7,000, although it is well above that in some parts of the country.
Mr Fischer estimates that total outbound tourist numbers will reach 200m by the end of the decade, while travel spending will triple.
“We’ve been talking about Chinese tourists for years,” says Mr Fischer. “People think this story is halfway done or two-thirds of the way done. We don’t think so; we think we’re at the beginning part.”
If correct, that should mean more good news for companies with exposure to the tourist renminbi. Gaming stocks have been among the biggest beneficiaries. Galaxy Entertainment – which through its Macau casino now takes more bets per year than the Las Vegas Strip – more than doubled in 2013. Rivals have also rallied.
More obvious regional travel plays have done well too. Sydney Airport’s stock has risen three times more than the Australian index, while Airports of Thailand is up two-thirds in the past 12 months, although it has been hit by recent unrest.
Catherine Yeung, at Fidelity, says the company’s fund managers have looked at a wide range of stocks to play the theme, such as South Korean cosmetics and duty-free retailers, casinos in the Philippines and even Australian education stocks.
“Perhaps China’s largest export in years to come is going to be the Chinese tourist. We’re talking about a huge number of people that are going to be travelling,” she says. But there are doubts about how easy it is to profit from it. Joohee An, who runs an Asia consumer fund at Mirae Asset, says a number of travel-related companies are in sectors with low entry barriers, raising long-term profitability questions. She favours casino and duty-free retail stocks.
Direct exposure is also a problem. For example, Cathay Pacific – one of Mr Fischer’s picks – gets only 10 per cent of its business from Chinese tourists.
China’s domestic politics also poses risks. Luxury goods stocks have been hit hard by China’s crackdown on ostentatious living and by the fickle nature of the luxury consumer. Prada shares have fallen 15 per cent in the past six months.
The bigger worry is simply that the best is already over. SJM Holdings has risen more than 1,300 per cent in the past five years, while Galaxy is up 5,600 per cent. Gaming sector valuations run from 25 times price to earnings up to more than 70 times. But for believers, this is no great concern.
“We can’t just compare the p/e [ratios]”, says Ms An. “It’s all about the potential. I think tourism is one of the best sectors for [positive] surprises.”
如果费舍尔的判断正确，那么能赚取人民币旅游收入的企业将迎来更多的好消息。博彩企业的股票是其中最主要的受益方之一。银河娱乐(Galaxy Entertainment)股价2013年涨幅超过一倍——该公司澳门赌场每年收到的下注数量比拉斯维加斯大道(Las Vegas Strip)上所有的赌场还要多。其竞争对手的股价同样大涨。
更具地区旅游特征的个股同样表现喜人。悉尼机场(Sydney Airport)股价的涨幅较澳大利亚大盘指数涨幅高出了三倍以上，而泰国机场公司(Airports of Thailand)在过去12个月中上涨了三分之二，虽然该股因为泰国近期的骚乱受到了冲击。
她说：“未来许多年内，或许中国输出最多的将是中国游客。我们所说的是，数量庞大的中国人将会出国旅行。”但也有人质疑从这一趋势中获益是否那么容易。Joohee An负责管理未来资产(Mirae Asset)旗下的一家亚洲消费基金。她表示，许多与旅游相关的行业门槛很低，这使其中企业的长期盈利能力受到了质疑。她更偏爱赌场及免税零售类个股。