Chasing Chinas silver dollar

Chasing Chinas silver dollar

Total Property - Issue 6 2016

It’s the ultimate symbol of Chinese culture: parents and grandparents living with their children under one roof.  

But for Chinese New Zealanders, that Confucianist ideal is set to be challenged by a boom in the community’s grey population.

New Zealand’s Asian population is set to increase to almost one million by 2025 and 1.26 million by 2038. Many will be retirees and it’s not clear they can all be cared for by their children – whether they want to or not.

However, operators of New Zealand’s retirement villages and care homes have yet to chase China’s silver dollar.

Expatriate Chinese communities in Melbourne, Vancouver and Toronto are showing an increasing acceptance of secondary care, even though it is not the preferred option.

Retirement developments aimed at the Asian market in these cities cater to the specific needs and tastes of Chinese seniors, offering them features like  Tai-chi programs, Chinese traditional medicines, Chinese-language TV shows and newspapers, calligraphy workshops, Mahjong nights, and on-site Chinese chefs preparing traditional dishes.

According to Immigration New Zealand, 11,000 Chinese migrants who entered New Zealand under the NZ Residence Programme in the past five years were aged over 50.

Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley says the Chinese are more likely than any other immigrant group to seek approval for elderly parents. “Family reunification is important but it is introducing a much larger elderly Chinese population. Also the Chinese community already here is beginning to age, notably middle-aged Chinese immigrants from the early 1990s.”

Spoonley says a key question is whether aged care providers will be able to offer a culturally and linguistically attractive service. “For example, will they have competent Mandarin speakers?”

Jenny Wang, of Chinese New Settlers Services Trust, says care homes catering to the Chinese would certainly impact the wider economy. Operators would seek to hire specialists in Chinese medicine and healthcare – including doctors, facility managers, nurses, counsellors, physical therapists and speech therapists along with non-skilled workers like bedside assistants - all needing to be fluent in Chinese languages.

Research indicates retirement villages attract most of their residents from five-10 kilometres away where the majority of residents come from, or where they holidayed or where their children live. This suggests that operators may not need to consciously target Chinese retirees.

The fact that New Zealand retirement village operators have not explicitly targeted the Chinese seniors market may also open the door for outside players, especially from China. Fu Wah International, which already has plans to build two hotels in Auckland, wants to take a stake in a Kiwi retirement village operator, as part of its plans to test the market.

Although the company’s president, Chiu Yung, told investors earlier this year the company did not have any specific targets yet, Ryman Healthcare, Summerset Group, Metlifecare and Arvida Group will almost certainly be on its radar.

Chiu has said Fu Wah wants to operate retirement villages in China, and taking a stake in a New Zealand operator would allow it to gain valuable industry know-how.

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