Chinese poised to overtake Kiwis as Australia’s biggest tourism market
The Australian tourism industry is racing to prepare for huge numbers of Chinese visitors to Australia, with figures more than tripling over the past seven years.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed that in trend terms, visitors from China began overtaking those from New Zealand in May.
And from 2015 to 2016, the difference between the number of annual Chinese visitors and Kiwis narrowed by more than 140,000.
Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan said 1.2 million people from mainland China visited Australia last year, and he said that was expected to triple to 3.3 million a year by 2026.
“This is a market that moves at speed and scale like we’ve never seen before,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“By 2020, we think that 42 per cent of all visitors to Australia will come from mainland China.
“We predict in the next year, Chinese visitors will overtake our current number one market, New Zealand.”
Mr O’Sullivan said China’s love affair with Australia was a lucrative business.
“They are big spenders … if you look at the $40 billion that international visitors spent here in Australia last financial year, a quarter of that came out of China — almost $10 billion,” he said.
He also said he thought Australia could handle the numbers.
“In Sydney, there’s 8,000 new rooms that are on the agenda, down in Melbourne there’s something like 6,000 rooms, so that constant injection of new rooms is really important and will help us cater for that demand,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
In Cairns in far north Queensland, Japanese tourists once made up the bulk of visitor numbers.
Pip Close from Tourism Tropical North Queensland said that was no longer the case.
“We currently receive around 214,000 Chinese per year — it’s our biggest market,” Ms Close said.
She said Chinese visitors came to Australia to “see the big sky”.
“Chinese tourists are very adventurous, particularly the millennials,” she said.
“They don’t want to necessarily want to be where there are a lot of Chinese people.
“They are getting out and exploring the region, they are looking for nature, good food, art and culture.
“They like the beautiful clear skies, the water and island life.”
Catering to different tastes
The Chinese tourism boom is paying off for local business owners in Cairns.
Harry Sou runs a Chinese restaurant in the Cairns CBD and serves upwards of 700 Chinese tourists a night.
It has even meant altering the nightly menu, to reflect where the visitors are from.
“Different provinces have different tastes,” Mr Sou said.
“People from Shanghai have sweet tastes, Guangzhou like Cantonese food, which is your everyday Chinese Australian food and then you go back to Beijing and they like strong sauces.”
Chinese tourist Gina Li, who was on a 13-day tour of Australia, said seeing koalas and kangaroos had been among her highlights.
“I’m very happy and I am very much looking forward to going to the reef and swimming,” she said.
“It has been a great time and I can’t wait to come back.”