News / Asia

Chinese Tourists Flock to Australia

Tourists take pictures in this long exposure photograph as the Sydney Opera House is lit with green lights during St Patrick's Day celebrations in central Sydney, March 17, 2010.
Tourists take pictures in this long exposure photograph as the Sydney Opera House is lit with green lights during St Patrick's Day celebrations in central Sydney, March 17, 2010.

Asia is coming to the rescue of Australia's troubled tourism industry, which has been in decline because of a downturn in visitors from Europe and North America.  Visitors from China have risen by more than 20 percent in just 12 months.   Last year, more than half-a-million Chinese travellers came to Australia.   

More Chinese are visiting Australia than ever before.  Shopping, the weather and the unusual wildlife are major attractions.

In seaside suburb, Manly, in Sydney another enthusiastic group of vacationers have come to marvel at the crashing surf and pristine sand.

Among them is Becky from southern China, who says Australia is a well-known destination.

"Oh, I think they know Australia a lot mainly because of back to 2000 the Olympics.  That is one of the main reasons and the other reason is recently China and Australia we have all the trade between [the] two countries," said Becky.  

Boost to travel industry

Last year, 540,000 Chinese visitors came to Australia.  They spent $3.5 billion,  which has helped to reinvigorate a travel industry that has been struggling as more North Americans and Europeans stay at home.

Andrew McEvoy, the managing director of Tourism Australia, the government’s marketing agency, says interest among travellers across Asia is increasing.

"Inbound travel to Australia grew last year marginally by about one percent, but all off the back of Asian visitation, so China, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and India all had double-digit growth," he said.  "New Zealand grew too off big numbers so our region, the region Australia exists in, is doing very well.  But you are right, the U.K., Europe and the Americas [with] macro-economic problems [are] struggling.  So China and the rest of Asia have been vital for our industry.”    

Wilderness appeal

Australia was the first Western country to receive approved destination status from the Chinese authorities in the late 1990s.  

Andrew McEvoy says affluent tourists from China can not resist Australia’s wild beauty.   

"It is competitive and they do love Europe, and they do love the U.S. and they do love Australia," he said.  "I was told by one agent out of Hangzhou that for the Chinese consumer Europe is luxury and tradition, America is wealth and popular culture and Australia is lifestyle and environment.”  

Australia vigorously promotes its fabled laid-back culture and stunning scenery to the Chinese just as it once did to the Japanese, whose numbers are falling largely because of a sluggish economy.

But the Chinese market keeps on growing, much to the relief of the New South Wales Tourism Minister George Souris.

"We believe that the Japanese market for us is in a long-term decline, but it has been more than taken over by our Chinese friends and they say the same things that the Japanese used to say, why they come to Australia and it is this clean environment," he said. "They want to visit beaches.  They do not actually go swimming many of them, they just want to visit the beaches, they want to visit national parks, they love the sight seeing and they just love this clean air, clean environment.  We perhaps underestimate that here in Australia of how important it is to somebody who comes from a more industrialized country and it is a very strong attraction for the Chinese market."

Increased dependence on China

A million Australian jobs depend on the vacation trade, so while the mighty resources sector is the country’s economic engine, tourism remains critical to the country’s financial health.  So, from mining to restaurants, hotels and casinos Australia is increasingly relying on China for its prosperity.

John Searle, a tour guide, says the Chinese want to see the beach and Australia’s legendary outback.

"They like to see the bush, there is no risk about that," he said. "Obviously they do like coming to places like where we are now, Manly.  But they definitely do like to go out into the bush.  They definitely like to see wild animals like the kangaroos and the koalas and things like that.  They are typical tourists that really like to take pictures of everything and anything.”   

The high Australian dollar is, however, likely to remain a problem for tourism operators for some time.  There is a warning too that Australia's Asian tourism boom could also be derailed in the longer term by a lack of language skills among businesses.  

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