More Chinese are visiting Australia than ever before, at a time when the Australian tourism industry is seeing a decline in the number of visitors from Europe and North America. The number of Chinese visitors has risen by more than 20 percent in just 12 months. Last year saw the arrival of more than half-a-million Chinese tourists to Australia. They spent close to $3.5 billion, which should help reinvigorate the struggling travel industry. The strong Aussie dollar has resulted in historically low international tourism earnings last year from traditional markets like the U.S., Japan and Europe.
In a span of ten years, the annual Chinese tourist arrivals have jumped from 156,000 to 536,000 last year, with industry-watchers expecting the number to cross 600,000 this year. Even though other markets are numerically bigger, according to estimates by Tourism Australia, the government’s marketing agency, the Chinese are the most valuable foreign tourist group, whose spending has risen by an average 18 per cent annually since 2000.
Andrew McEvoy, Managing Director of Tourism Australia, says that the growth is the result of years of meticulous planning and execution, whose rewards are now visible. Just as it once did to the Japanese, whose numbers are dwindling due to sluggish economy back home, Australia vigorously promotes its stunning natural beauty and fabled laid-back culture to the Chinese. Tourism Australia has a network of 5,000 travel agencies in 13 key Chinese cities. Australia received approved destination status from China in the late 1990s, the first western country to do so. Underlining the importance of the Chinese travelers, Tourism Australia has devised a strategic plan entitled China 2020, under which it targets to attract 860,000 Chinese tourists a year by 2020.
Even though the Aussie dollar is expected to further appreciate this year, analysts don’t expect it to negatively impact the Chinese inflow. According to Bee Ho Teow, the COO of Melbourne-based Australian Tours Management, which focuses on in-bound tourists from Asia, “The Chinese feel confident of the future, they feel affluent. So it’s not about the currency, it’s about how they are feeling about their own economy.”
Tourism is an important revenue generator for the Australian economy and in the financial year 2010/11, the tourism industry represented 2.5% of Australia’s GDP, generating direct employment for close to half a million people.