Thursday, August 14, 2014

Importing Chinese Tourists as Exports

Australia has been exporting large quantities of resources to China in recent years. I would like to say it has transformed our economy, but in reality it has accentuated pre-existing attributes of the Australian economy. Indeed, although the policy framework shaping Australia's economic interactions has been transformed, Australia remains reliant on resources to pay our way in the world.

In the 1980s, Japanese demand for resources was followed by a significant increase in Japanese investment and tourists. This is now happening with China and the prospects for further increases in Chinese tourism are high. 

Our importing of Chinese nationals to visit Australia is registered in the national accounts as an export as is the spending of Chinese students. 

Alan Kohler canvasses the potential numbers:
In June about five Boeing 747 loads of seasonally adjusted Chinese tourists arrived in Australia every day. For the year to June, the total was 769,000 -- a record number -- and second only to New Zealanders. More importantly, Chinese tourists stay the longest and spend by far the most: $5.1 billion in the year to March, according to Tourism Australia data, or $7,343 each -- double what the Kiwis spend. 
Apparently only 5 per cent of Chinese actually own a passport so there is a fair bit of upside potential there, although it's important to note that most Chinese are still poor. Despite China's rapidly growing economy over recent years, overall China is still a poor country, ranking 82nd in the world for Gross National Income per Capita (measured in US dollars) according to the World Bank. This puts it just above Namibia, but below Iraq and Turkmenistan. Australia ranks third.

In the case of tourism, purchasing power parity rankings of economic weight (see here for explanation) have less purchase than exchange rate measures (local currencies converted to US Dollars) because going overseas requires you to convert your money and pay higher prices. I'm not sure that poor Chinese will be visiting expensive rich countries any time soon.  Of course, with a population as large as China's, this is not really the point as long as the middle class keeps expanding and decides to spend some of its new found wealth on coming to Australia.

According to The Economist: 
Nearly one in ten international tourists worldwide is now Chinese, with 97.3m outward-bound journeys from the country last year, of which around half were for leisure. Chinese tourists spend most in total ($129 billion in 2013, followed by Americans at $86 billion) and per tax-free transaction ($1,130 compared with $494 by Russians). More than 80% say that shopping is vital to their plans, compared with 56% of Middle Eastern tourists and 48% of Russians. They are expected to buy more luxury goods next year while abroad than tourists from all other countries combined.
Supposedly, the number of Chinese tourists will double by 2010 and their spending will triple, although there is no indication how these numbers were arrived at. It's China so anything I suppose is possible.

Tourism Australia reports that there were "6.6 million visitor arrivals for year ending June 2014, an increase of 7.9 per cent relative to the previous year". China ranked second behind New Zealand with the UNited Kingdom third.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics compares 2013-14 with 2003-04 to see how short-term visitor arrivals have changed. Seemingly, the Japanese are less interested than they once were in Australia.

New Zealand numbers have increased by over 30 per cent, but the number of Japanese visits has fallen from 718,600 to 323,700, a fall of 55 per cent. Chinese visits have increased by nearly 230 per cent, while Indian visits have increased by nearly 250 per cent.

It is not just short-term visitor numbers that interest Australian authorities. In recent years, Australia has introduced 'significant investor visas', which enable people to buy their way into Australia. According to a recent report, the scheme "has reaped a total $1.7 billion to date", awarding 343 residency visas as at the end July 31. The Abbott government accelerated the scheme after concerns that the program begun in 2012 was not attracting investors. Accordingly "six hundred and two additional applications had been made at July 31, and $3.05 billion in investment pledged in return

Australia has been in a good location to take advantage of Asia's booming economy, although we should be careful about assuming that these numbers will continue to expand, just because Japan and China have large populations. Australia will continue to depend on the economic growth of East Asian countries with China increasingly important for all countries in the region. A slowing China will affect all other countries in Asia and in turn have a negative affect on Australia.   

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