HONG KONG — Lower income growth and a weaker yuan are the biggest threats to outbound Chinese tourism, according to a CLSA survey released Tuesday.
“Tourism potentially is quite sensitive to a slowdown of income growth,” Aaron Fischer, CLSA head of consumer and gaming research said at a press briefing detailing the survey. The report polled 400 Chinese on their prior overseas travel and expected trips abroad. “Sixty percent [of respondents] said [they] will cut outbound travel if [household] income is lower than expected.”
Fischer said Tuesday’s release of China’s full-year 2015 gross domestic product figures is a concern for all categories. The Chinese economy grew at 6.9 percent in 2015, falling just short of its expectations for 7 percent growth and represents a slowdown from the 7.3 percent growth registered in 2014.
“Based on the slowdown we’re seeing in China, Chinese are becoming a bit more sensitive about spending on discretionary,” Fischer said.
Of the Chinese surveyed, 68 percent said they would cut their travel-related shopping spend if family income is lower than anticipated.
If costs were not a concern, Chinese would travel to the U.S., France, Maldives and Australia in that order, according to the research. France was the number-one destination the year before but appeared to be impacted by the two terrorist attacks last year. South Korea, Japan, Thailand and the U.S. are the most likely destinations for Chinese tourists in the next three years, CLSA said.
“We’re certainly very bullish on Japan. We didn’t expect it to double in a year,” Fischer said referring to the five million Chinese visitors Japan received last year compared to the 2.4 million in 2014. “And when they go to Japan, they are spending about 70 percent more than all other tourists. [They go for] the environment and foreign culture but also the shopping.”
Despite the common perception that Chinese tourists make a beeline for shops once abroad, shopping is not the number-one driver for traveling except when visiting Hong Kong. Shopping was listed fifth — behind safety, costs, culture, and length of vacation — as a reason for choosing to travel to a destination, according to the survey.
Any changes to import duties in China — which Beijing has hinted at in recent months after dropping tariffs on a number of products including clothing last July — would hit Hong Kong the most.
“Certainly that would be a concern for Hong Kong but not necessarily a concern for the other markets,” Fischer said.
He added that the issue was a politically sensitive one too and the duties were not likely to be lifted completely any time soon.
“I think on one hand, it would make sense to reduce the duties on the Mainland because it means retail is capturing more sales and that’s good for GDP growth and employment,” he said. “On the other hand, by having taxes on luxury goods, you’re effectively taxing wealthy people more. So by reducing the taxes on those items, you’re shifting the tax burden from the wealthy people to the poor people on a net basis. I think long-term the duties will come down but will not happen overnight.”