In your interest: Paul Clitheroe
We all know the old saying that at times it is hard to see the forest for the trees. I am certainly guilty of this. The amount of micro detail in the world of money is growing and growing. The changes to superannuation had me well and truly in micro focus mode up to June 30, along with various pronouncements about capital gains tax, negative gearing and later trusts. Add market and currency volatility and it would be fair to say I had little time to ponder what I believe really adds value to investment returns – a long-term perspective.
So it was with some relief that I left these issues behind and, with my wife Vicki and some very old friends, headed off to the Baltic and then, even better, into the Arctic Circle for some kayaking in the sea ice. I should pause here and tell you that this was not even a vaguely brave move. First, we were in an ice-reinforced expedition ship; we had breakfast, lunch and dinner on board, as well as a nice warm bed!
Not being a fan of the potential to roll in zero-degree water at a latitude of 80 degrees north, we kayaked in full dry suits, and not at all if it was blowing a gale. So much for an adventurous life. But it was a great experience, with ice, polar bears, walruses, seals and whales. Even better, there were absolutely no communications for nearly two weeks. Without a minute-by-minute deluge of news I had a chance to mull over the long-term outlook.
I am a big fan of the simple. The simplest fact is that the world population is growing at some 90 million people a year. Despite all the bad news, some of it heart-wrenching, another simple fact is that poverty is dramatically lower. The average wealth of a global citizen is also strongly on the rise.
I have been fortunate to travel a lot and it is easy to feel the pressure of wealth and a growing population. In St Petersburg, Tallinn, Gdansk or any attractive city you care to name, it is basically standing room only at major tourist sites. I have spent a bit of time in St Petersburg over the years – it is an amazing city. There were five monster cruise liners in town, as there are every day in summer, and our Russian guide told me the port facilities would be expanded to allow for up to 15 ever-bigger liners. Outside what I would regard as a minor attraction I counted 47 tourist coaches, with more circling. Thank heavens I had been there some years earlier, so I could just watch the hordes in amazement.
But there is important information here about future investment. Clearly tourism will be a huge generator of jobs and revenue. The “owners”, by which I mean the residents, of the great global attractions will have to put quotas on tourist arrivals, a most interesting new source of revenue.
It is very clear that business and investment opportunities abound. “Mass tourism” is rapidly leading to what I would call “middle class exclusive” tourism. As larger numbers of us experience more travel, I have no doubt many of us will pay a bit more for a smaller-group experience like my Arctic kayak experience.
So my radar has turned with interest to how we can invest in this obvious growth area. We can already invest in airlines, cruise ship companies and so on but tourism is going to be one of the great themes of the future, so I am going to do a bit more digging around and I’ll report back. For example, big cruise ships are not really my thing but they are loved by millions of people. So just think for a minute about the food and beverages that they need as they stop and the benefits to local suppliers, restaurants, taxis, travel companies, tourist shops and so on. And they are only one part of travel. Airports, also an economic miracle, seem to me to be the new world shopping malls.
I am not in the business of travel tips but one thing firmly in my mind is the need to go to major tourist destinations in the shoulder season. And I suspect in a decade this may need to be winter. Even for the Arctic or Antarctic, where for now you at least will get peace and quiet, you’d better book early to get a small-expedition boat experience, or prepare to be on a wait list.
Paul Clitheroe is Money’s chairman and chief commentator. He is also chairman of the Australian government’s Financial Literacy Board and a best-selling author.