China's growing middle class is a force to be reckoned with. By 2022, the country will have more than half a billion middle-class consumers. If China's middle class were a country, it would be the third-most populous in the world, with 1.7 times the total population of the U.S. today.
In light of this growth, it's no coincidence that consumer spending in China is expected to grow 9% a year through 2020, according to the Boston Consulting Group. China's overall consumer economy is forecast to grow by 55%, bringing its value to $6.5 trillion. That's a $2.3 trillion increase over four years, the equivalent to adding a new consumer market 1.3 times larger than the current consumer market of Germany or the U.K.
(For more on how to invest in China's consumer economy, click here.)
China's Singles' Day shows how much consumption is growing. Since 1990, unmarried Chinese have celebrated Singles' Day. What used to be a time to exchange small gifts has become a single-day online shopping bonanza. Alibaba, China's online sales giant, is credited with turning the day into the world's biggest consumer holiday, larger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
This year Alibaba's Singles' Day event set a Guinness World Record for highest online sales revenue generated by a single company in 24 hours. Within the first five minutes of the event, Alibaba saw $1 billion in sales. Over the next two hours, online shoppers spent $7.2 billion. By noon, the total was $11.9 billion. It took only 15 hours for sales to surpass 2015's total. This year's total amounted to $17.79 billion, which was 32% higher than last year's number.
On average, Chinese consumers were spending $741 million per hour. This is equivalent to the total economic output of Cambodia in 2015. And this figure only reflects online sales at Alibaba.
Spending Habits of the Nouveau Riche
The Chinese middle class isn't just spending money online. A large portion of the population now has enough money to buy more than just the basics. When people begin to have disposable income, they tend to spend it on -- among other things -- health, education and leisure activities like travel. And the numbers show that China's middle-class consumers have been bitten by the travel bug.
I saw a similar progression unfold in Russia when I lived there in the mid-1990s. Citizens of the former Soviet Union had recently emerged from communist rule. Under communist rule, citizens couldn't travel abroad.
After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, people were allowed to travel outside of the country with ease. But it took a number of years before Russia's economy stabilized, commodity prices rose and a middle class emerged. Once Russia's middle class had enough wealth, international travel took off. Instead of only traveling within the country, Europe became a popular holiday destination for the newly minted middle class. Tourist spots around the world began catering to Russian customers.
China today is experiencing a similar dynamic. More and more tourist destinations are catering to this new demographic. With the influx of millions of Chinese tourists, the global travel industry is changing.
The Chinese Tourism Boom
Legendary investor Jim Rogers recently described Chinese tourism as "one of the great growth industries of our time."
As Rogers sees it, there's enormous pent-up demand for travel in China. Until very recently, Chinese citizens had limited access to passports and international travel. And most people didn't have enough money to buy a plane ticket anyway.
Increased air traffic through China's main airports tells you all you need to know. In 2000, there wasn't a single Chinese airport that ranked in the top 30 globally in terms of passenger numbers. But last year, slightly more than 89 million passengers flew through Beijing Capital International airport. This number is 315% higher than what it was in 2000. And today, Beijing's airport is the second-busiest in the world.
When compared to other airports around the world, this kind of growth is extraordinary. The world's busiest airport, located in Atlanta, saw only a 27% increase in passengers from 2000 to 2015.
As the following chart shows, Hong Kong International Airport now ranks No. 9, and Shanghai Pudong International and Guangzhou Baiyun International both recently climbed into the top 20.
It's expected that the size of China's aviation market will overtake that of the U.S. by 2024. In 2025, the U.S. will have 904 million passengers. But China will have 927 million flyers at that time, double today's number. And by 2035, Chinese air passenger traffic will reach 1.3 billion.
Expect to hear a lot more Chinese at your favorite vacation spots very soon.
How to Invest in China's Highfliers
There are plenty of companies poised to profit from China's tourism boom. But there's one market, in particular, that's deeply involved in this industry... and it's trading at an unbelievable discount. Click here to take advantage of this fleeting investment opportunity.
Kim Iskyan is the founder of Truewealth Publishing, an independent investment research company based in Singapore. Click here to sign up to receive the Truewealth Asian Investment Daily in your inbox every day, for free.
The author holds no positions in the securities mentioned.