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Thematic Thoughts: Golden Week and the evolution of Chinese consumer spending

Following China’s Golden Week holidays, GAM Investments’ Jian Shi Cortesi and Fanwei Zeng reflect on the country’s latest developments in tourism and consumption, and how the trend towards experiences is set to create investment opportunities.

13 October 2023

The recent National Day Golden Week is usually the most eagerly awaited and busiest travel season for Chinese people after Spring Festival. This year, the Mid-Autumn Festival fell near the National Day, resulting in an extended eight-day dual holiday period from 29 September to 6 October. The consumption data and our on-the-ground observations, as well as our conversations with Chinese consumers, indicated an interesting shift in consumer behavior; the negative wealth effect from properties has made Chinese consumers more conservative in their overall spending. While they are currently not spending as freely on big-ticket items as they did before, they have shown a strong appetite for spending on experiences.

Tourism has rebounded strongly, and we believe the trend will continue in the future as Chinese consumers increasingly value travel experiences. Official data reveals that domestic tourism experienced significant growth over the eight-day holiday, with total tourist traffic reaching 826 million and tourism revenue amounting to RMB 753.4 billion (USD 103.2 billion), representing a year-on-year increase of 71% and 130% respectively, surpassing the pre-Covid 2019 level by 4.1% and 1.5%. The figures indicated that normal traveling activities have fully resumed after China’s reopening. Moreover, there has been a shift in tourism demand towards more diverse experiences, for example cultural tourism became a key theme. Live performance/shows box office and audiences were up 83% and 61% versus 2019, according to the China Association of Performing Arts. Other events such as music festivals, concerts and the Asian Games have also attracted people to travel across different cities. The passenger traffic of central business districts in 36 large cities grew 164% year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Commerce. This coincides with the latest travel trend among young people called “city walk”, which refers to casually wandering or exploring special routes within a city (while spending little money on shopping).

In terms of international tourism, reported outbound tourist traffic during the Golden Week reached nearly 85% of the 2019 level. Korea, Japan, and Thailand were the top three outbound travel destinations by flight volume. However, international travel remains a niche market in China and may not be our primary focus when analysing Chinese travel patterns. It may come as a surprise to many that only 13% of Chinese held a passport by 2019; domestic travel remains the top choice for most people. International travel is still somewhat constrained by flight availability and visa bottlenecks. Recent reports of certain negative incidents have also led to more safety concerns for overseas travel. We think these factors will have a temporarily impact and anticipate a further overseas travel recovery in the coming years.

In comparison to the tourism sector, the overall retail sales recovery has been relatively lower. During the Golden Week, the average spending per domestic tourist was 2.4% below the 2019 level at RMB 912 (USD 125). Hainan Duty-Free revenue and average spending per customer were also lower compared to those of 2023 May Labour Day and 2021 Golden Week. Consumers appear to be more cautious, preferring not to splurge on tangible goods amid a property downturn and economic uncertainties. Our on-the-ground checks and conversations with locals also confirmed this trend. When walking around Hong Kong shopping malls during Golden Week, foot traffic was much stronger than usual, but long queues in front of luxury stores were not as prevalent as before.

Catering remains resilient, and according to the Ministry of Commerce, sales of key restaurant companies improved nearly 20% year-on-year in the first seven days of the holiday. Restaurant chain Haidilao Hot Pot reported table turnover over five times and recovered to 90% of the 2019 level. Meituan, the leading Chinese food delivery platform, also disclosed that average daily catering sales during the holiday surpassed pre-Covid levels by 154%. Those figures, along with the still above-50 September services PMI number, suggested consumers’ greater willingness to pay for services and convenience. While the anticipated “revenge consumption” may not have materialised as expected, we believe Chinese consumption has not diminished, with people just shifting towards more differentiated services and products.

The overall observations during the Golden Week reaffirmed our view that travel and other experience-led consumption will be a secular trend in China and is set to create attractive investment opportunities.

 

Overcrowded railway station at the beginning of the Golden Week:

 

Hong Kong shopping mall with a significantly higher number of visitors than usual:

 

Huawei flagship store in Shenzhen: people were looking at new phones and cars:

 

Important disclosures and information

The information contained herein is given for information purposes only and does not qualify as investment advice. Opinions and assessments contained herein may change and reflect the point of view of GAM in the current economic environment. No liability shall be accepted for the accuracy and completeness of the information contained herein. Past performance is no indicator of current or future trends. The mentioned financial instruments are provided for illustrative purposes only and shall not be considered as a direct offering, investment recommendation or investment advice or an invitation to invest in any GAM product or strategy. Reference to a security is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. The securities listed were selected from the universe of securities covered by the portfolio managers to assist the reader in better understanding the themes presented. The securities included are not necessarily held by any portfolio nor represent any recommendations by the portfolio managers nor a guarantee that objectives will be realized.

This material contains forward-looking statements relating to the objectives, opportunities, and the future performance of the U.S. market generally. Forward-looking statements may be identified by the use of such words as; “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “should,” “planned,” “estimated,” “potential” and other similar terms. Examples of forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, estimates with respect to financial condition, results of operations, and success or lack of success of any particular investment strategy. All are subject to various factors, including, but not limited to general and local economic conditions, changing levels of competition within certain industries and markets, changes in interest rates, changes in legislation or regulation, and other economic, competitive, governmental, regulatory and technological factors affecting a portfolio’s operations that could cause actual results to differ materially from projected results. Such statements are forward-looking in nature and involve a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, and accordingly, actual results may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in such forward-looking statements. Prospective investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements or examples. None of GAM or any of its affiliates or principals nor any other individual or entity assumes any obligation to update any forward-looking statements as a result of new information, subsequent events or any other circumstances. All statements made herein speak only as of the date that they were made.

Jian Shi Cortesi

Investment Director
My Insights

Fanwei Zeng

Investment Analyst
My Insights

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