Chinese tourists

Australia ready to cash in on tourist boom from China

Tourism officials down under are rushing to woo mainland visitors with bulging wallets

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 4:43am

Forget the kitsch appeal of koalas and kangaroos - mainland Chinese tourists are getting smarter about what they get for their yuan and Australians are not shy about putting their hands in the global tourism till.

"Mainland China is our fastest-growing, highest-value market," said Andrew McEvoy, managing director of Tourism Australia, the country's top tourism advocacy body.

"The Chinese consumer is the highest-spending visitor we have, spending more than A$7,000 (HK$56,200) every visit."

McEvoy was in Hong Kong last week to woo hotel investors down under and to launch the second phase of the "There's nothing like Australia" campaign, which started in May 2010.

Over the next three years, his team will splash out A$180 million selling the country's attractions to tourists globally and the various sectors that drive it, with an estimated A$20 million to be spent in China this year alone.

"We're trying to be competitive. If that means being aggressive, then yes, we are. We need to be clever, competitive and extremely compelling."

That's because he is dealing with some fierce competition from the Americas and Europe.

But Australia has a few things going for it that places it in a strong position, he said, quoting a travel agent in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, who told him that for the Chinese traveller, Europe was luxury and tradition; the US was wealth and popular culture and Australia was the environment and lifestyle.

"It's air quality, the big skies, happy friendly people," said McEvoy, of Australia's allure.

"This year, we will have more than 600,000 [mainland] Chinese visitors spending more than A$4 billion and [tourist numbers are] growing at a rate of between 15 and 20 per cent every year."

In the first six months of this year, visitors from mainland China and Taiwan accounted for the biggest growth in numbers apart from the Irish, a traditional source of tourists for the antipodean destination.

Hong Kong remains an important market for Australia and its trends are a precursor of things to come. "Hong Kong is like the future of China," said Eva Huang, Tourism Australia's regional director for China.

She said that while first-time Chinese visitors generally liked group tours, some demand greater control of their itinerary and so many brochures have been translated into simplified Chinese to accommodate their needs. A recent report forecast the mainland Chinese market in Australia would account for 860,000 visitors worth A$9 billion by 2020.

"If anything, we've underestimated the power and growth of China," McEvoy said. "The truth is China is more likely to be a one-million-person market, worth A$10 billion by 2020. People talk about the slowdown of China, but I just don't see it.

"Airline capacity out of mainland China has grown 117 per cent in the past three years. That will soften a bit but more and more people are coming into money. If you've emerged as a middle-class person, you want to build life's résumé; travel is part of that and Australia is a big part of that," he said.