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|Marketing Australia as a travel destination for the Chinese|
Sophie Loras looks at what Australian regional centres and cities are doing in readiness for the exponential growth in Chinese tourism numbers to Australia and what government and tourism bodies are doing to maintain it.
It is an ambitious target – to more than double the 2010 total tourism expenditure in Australia from the Chinese market of $3.6 billion to reach somewhere between $7.406 billion and $9.022 billion in total expenditure by 2020. Those are the figures being forecast by Tourism Australia for the next ten years. And if recently released overseas arrivals and departures data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is anything to go by, the level of optimism may well be warranted.
The February figures show that the ongoing economic booms in Asia, and more directly, China, continued to buoy the Australian tourism industry in 2011, despite weaknesses in the economies of some of Australia’s traditional markets and the impact of global natural disasters.
The ABS figures show that overall visitor arrivals to Australia for the year ending 2011, was down just 0.2 percent on 2010. Arrivals from China however, increased 19.4 percent in 2011 to reach 542,000 arrivals, making it Australia’s third largest inbound market behind New Zealand and the United Kingdom, off the back of a 24 percent increase in 2010.
“China will remain a priority international market for Tourism Australia and the Australian tourism industry in 2012, and already is our most valuable in financial terms,” says Tourism Australia’s Managing Director, Andrew McEvoy.
“Its existing value to Australia of $3.6 billion could reach $9.5 billion annually with the successful delivery of our China 2020 Plan by decade’s end.”
It is a significant sign that the top strategic focus outlined in Tourism Australia’s 2020 plan is to grow demand from Asia.
Main focuses will be promoting tourism as a key component of “The Asian Century” white paper, implementing the 2020 China Strategy, increasing training for tourism operators by industry associations and addressing quality and product opportunities for Asia.
*Pictured right: Shopping is a popular pastime for Chinese tourists visiting Australian cities such as Melbourne and Sydney. (Courtesy Tourism Australia)
Part of the plan also includes an investment of more than $30 million from the Australian Government and Tourism Australia in marketing to China over the next three years, including A$13.32 million this year alone.
Through the Tourism 2020 Strategy, the government will also support the $35 billion tourism industry by increasing airline capacity, investing tens of millions of dollars in T-QUAL Grants projects and delivering regional tourism employment projects to narrow skills gaps.
One in four of Tourism Australia’s international marketing dollars go towards promoting Australia to China, says Mr McEvoy. “And we plan to continue this strong focus in partnership with the Australian industry, including key airlines, the Chinese travel trade and online distribution in 2012,” he says.
Tourism Australia has also established a network of 5,000 dedicated 'Aussie Specialist' travel agents in 13 of China's primary cities. These agents have all received specialised training to sell Australia to the huge and growing Chinese travelling population.
Australian industry is also engaging with Chinese trade partners and other key stakeholders such as the Chinese government through trade shows and missions. The industry recognizes that building strong relationships is the key to successful business in China.
Mr McEvoy says the massive increases in Chinese visitor numbers to Australia has in large part been made possible through significant increases in aviation capacity, led by international carriers such as China Southern, Air China, China Eastern, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and more recently Jetstar with its expansion into a number of Chinese cities through its hub in Singapore.
“Tourism Australia strategically works with the largest international airlines serving Australia, home grown and those based overseas, to even better leverage our marketing dollars and cut-through in this critical market,” says Mr McEvoy.
He says the response in China to Tourism Australia’s current 'There's nothing like Australia' campaign has been better received than anywhere else overseas, with high numbers who see the campaign (over 90 percent) confirming they had started researching a future trip to Australia.
“Shifting people from a preference to visit to intention to book a visit to Australia is our primary role,” says Mr McEvoy. “and the high growth performance of Australian tourism in China proves something is working.”
Tourism Australia’s efforts are concentrated on China's fast growing upper and middle class; the emergence of the Free Independent Traveller (FIT) segment; Business Events; digital and social media; more aviation capacity; and better coordination by governments and industry.
“China is very much part of the Asian century,” says Mr McEvoy.
“And we are well placed to grab our share of the huge opportunity presented.”
Profile: City of Sydney’s Twilight Parade
Sydney remains the top destination for Chinese visitors to Australia, with the two-week Chinese Lunar New Year holiday proving a peak travel time. The City of Sydney, which leads the way in its cultural engagement with Asia and China during this time of year, estimates around 150,000 visitors from China and Asia visited Sydney during this year’s Chinese New Year holiday period, in part drawn to the city’s lavish Chinese New Year Twilight Parade and fireworks. It was the City of Sydney’s 16th Chinese New Year Festival and 12th Twilight Parade.
This year’s Year of the Dragon-themed parade showcased nearly 3,000 performers – many of them, artistic troupes from China and other parts of Asia, 24 floats, light projections and a fireworks display.
An estimated 100,000 people lined Sydney’s streets to witness this year’s parade on January 29, making it the city’s biggest to date.
The two-week festival included the annual Twilight Parade, Chinese New Year Markets, dragon boat races, a fireworks display and new events including world-class art exhibitions, live performances, food tours and children’s activities.
“We promised our biggest and best Festival yet and record attendance figures at the key events show we have achieved just that,” said Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
“We have cemented Sydney Festival as the biggest and best celebration of the Lunar New Year outside Mainland China.”
Ms Moore said the city’s Lunar New Year festivities had reaped “enormous benefit” to the city’s local economy.
The City of Sydney invests around $1 million in bringing the Sydney Chinese New Year Parade to life and involves the hard work of 275 staff, 22 volunteer translators and more than 100 volunteer performers.
Planning for next year's celebrations, which will ring in the Year of the Snake, are already underway.
Playing Catch Up: The Grampians, Victoria
Southern Grampians Shire in Western Victoria is hoping to build on its existing sister-city relationship with Gaoyou City in Jiangsu Province to facilitate greater Chinese tourist numbers to the region.
Currently, the shire is facilitating business opportunities through this relationship in the areas of education (through a unique partnership between the Hamilton and Alexandra College and Gaoyou Middle School), agriculture (with increasing Chinese interests in land holdings and meat production), forestry and water engineering and waste management expertise.
*Pictured above: Smaller regional areas of Australia are now playing a concerted game of catch up as they try to capitalize off the increasing numbers of Chinese visiting Australia each year, in search of a return to nature. (The Grampians, Victoria, Courtesy Tourism Australia)
Attracting Chinese tourists to the region is the next step, however Hugh Koch, Manager for Economic Development and Tourism with the Southern Grampians Shire Council, recognizes the region has some way to go in order to better facilitate this select group. This would be through stronger Chinese language and culture awareness with tourism and hospitality service providers in the region and better infrastructure to support the current Chinese preferences of group travel.
Currently the Grampians region receives some Chinese tourists off the back of the Grampians tourist route, which incorporates a three-day trip from Melbourne to Geelong, Port Fairy, Dunkeld, the Grampians National Park, Halls Gap and Ballarat.
“For the Chinese, Ballarat and Sovereign Hill are very popular, and we try to leverage of that,” says Mr Koch.
The region hopes to profit from Chinese tourists’ love of the great outdoors. The area boasts one of Australia’s most diverse flora types ranging from subalpine forest, shrub woodlands, heathlands and swamps to spectacular views from the Grampians many peaks. Outdoor activities include bush walking, hiking, rock climbing and abseiling at a range of levels, to cycling and mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking and fishing and camping.
The region has an array of accommodation options from five star resorts, traditional guesthouses and camping facilities.
Wildlife includes kangaroos, koalas, bandicoots, emus, possums, wedge-tailed eagles and reptiles.
Mr Koch says feedback from Hong Kong and Singaporean tourists is encouraging.
“The feedback we receive are the same comments, “ says Mr Koch. “They tell us our stars are so clear here. These are the things we often take for granted but for those visitors, that moment will be one they treasure forever.”
CASE STUDY: TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND
*Pictured right: The Great Barrier Reef is Tropical North Queensland’s biggest draw card with Chinese and international visitors alike. (Courtesy Tourism Australia)
In January, Cairns Airport received 4,000 Chinese New Year visitors arriving on 12 direct charter flights from Mainland China. On arrival, traditional Chinese Lion Dancers and red packet blessings greeted the Chinese tourists. On standby were specially appointed Chinese Liaison Officers to provide assistance.
The CNY charter flights into Cairns included seven China Southern online pokies australia charters direct from Guangzhou and three China Eastern charters from Shanghai. Cathay Pacific added two extra flights from Hong Kong in addition to their daily Hong Kong-Cairns service.
The number of special Chinese New Year flights for 2012 was double the number scheduled in 2011.
Those arriving on direct services from China were part of the 16,000 strong number of visitors expected in Cairns over the Chinese New Year period.
Although Tropical North Queensland has been engaging with the Chinese tourism sector for more than 20 years, capitalising on the Chinese New Year period has reaped big rewards for the region.
The International Visitor Survey for Year Ending September 2011 show 72,620 Chinese visitors holidayed in the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region, a 26 percent increase on the previous year.
Rob Giason CEO of Tourism Tropical North Queensland said the charter program for Chinese New Year had for many years been a welcome boost for the local tourism industry during a traditional low season.
“It became pretty obvious from the get go that if you are going to make any inroads, Chinese new year was the first hurdle,” says Brian Hennessy, Tourism Tropical North Queensland’s Director Sales & Marketing in Cairns.
“Chinese New Year received such a spike in numbers it needed to be handled carefully, ” he says.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland works closely with Tourism Queensland and Tourism Australia to promote the area through marketing strategies and trade shows.
And while Japan remains the region’s largest source of tourists followed by the UK, Greater China and the US and Canada, Mr Hennessy expects that to change quite soon.
“The biggest growth is going to be China – there is no question about that, and we expect China to be our biggest market within the next five years,” he says.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland is actively speaking to Chinese mainland carriers to initiate direct flights into Cairns. Currently, Cathay Pacific operates daily flights into Cairns from Hong Kong. But Mr Hennessy says the region’s obvious popularity with Chinese tourists (Tropical North Queensland ranks fifth behind Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Brisbane), mean direct flights from Mainland China are not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
Chinese travelers to Tropical North Queensland are often small family groups travelling as part of a larger group.
“It is very much a family market and that was very clearly indicated at Chinese New Year,” says Mr Hennessy.
The Great Barrier Reef remains the region’s biggest draw card but Chinese tourists are also being drawn to the area for the rainforests.
“There is a great thirst from Chinese tourists to get back to a very natural environment, and that is very much the case with the rainforests,” says Mr Hennessy.
The close proximity of the rainforests to the Reef also works in the region’s favour.
A third incentive, is engaging Chinese in a traditional Australian Outback experience
“Chinese people are fascinated by the Aussie lifestyle and they really get to see that in Cairns."
TTNQ’s marketing strategies to engage with the Chinese market include a range of angles from pushing for direct services between Cairns and the Mainland to working with Tourism Queensland on trade activities, and supporting TQ reps in promoting charter services over Chinese New Year. The current focus is on Chinese tier-one and tier-two regions such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chongqing, Xi’an, the Pearl River Delta, Beijing, Qingdao and Tianjin. TTNQ has Chinese-speaking staff based in Cairns and is actively engaging with the Chinese market through social media sites such as Weibo and facilitating visits to Australia for Chinese media.
In addition, the region has committed resources to ensuring it is ready for the influx of Chinese travelers, facilitating seminars to improve Chinese readiness in the industry, in such areas as cultural sensibilities and encouraging local TAFEs to offer Mandarin courses for people in the tourism sector.
Already, a number of hotels and tourism service providers are employing Chinese speakers for hotel front desk positions, in restaurants and on boats.
Chinese signage is evident at popular tourists spots on the Great Barrier Reef but is likely to increase as the Chinese market develops more towards independent travel and away from group travel. Currently, the focus is on group travel and ensuring guides speak Chinese.
TTNQ is also producing its first Chinese guide to the region in both traditional and simplified characters for distribution for consumers and travel trade specialists throughout China.
“We really offer a natural environment that the Chinese want to experience,” says Brian Hennessy.
“And we are developing strong commercial and cultural links as well.” ■
Key highlights of Tourism Australia’s China 2020 plan are:
- To ensure Australian tourism remains competitive in the fast growing market for outbound travel from China.
- Grow Australian market share of the Chinese tourism market to as much as $9.5 billion in overnight expenditure and 860,000 Chinese visitors annually by 2020.
- By 2020 there will be around one million outbound trips from China annually but with 140 countries also competing for market share Australia will need to ensure it remains competitive.
- Key opportunities from China to include: a growing upper and middle class; the emergence of the Free Independent Traveller (FIT) segment; growth in demand for Business Events; a strong digital and social media environment creating new media, advocacy and distribution channels; expansion of aviation capacity under the Air Service Agreement; and increased awareness of the China opportunity by governments and industry stakeholders.
- Assessment of the potential of 600 Chinese cities, to determine an approach to Tourism Australia’s phased expansion in China to include as many as 24 cities.
“Australia has had a good head start but still needs a robust plan for the future that focuses on the trade, consumers, aviation access, partnerships and shifts in market opportunity,” Mr McEvoy said.
FACTS AND FIGURES
China is now Australia's largest source market in terms of economic value, worth $3.4 billion, followed by United Kingdom ($2.7 billion), New Zealand ($2 billion), and other countries ($1.8 billion).
Most popular destinations for Chinese tourists to Australia
(Year ending Sept 2011)
Gold Coast 118,000
Tropical North Queensland 75,000
*Source: Tourism Research Australia