Australia has leapt up the bucket list of Chinese tourists to the fourth most desirable destination, from tenth just two years ago — following the extension of access by providing 10-year frequent-traveller visas.
The top three destinations targeted in the next three years, in the regular survey conducted by prominent Asian capital markets and investment group CLSA — now owned by China’s CITIC — are Japan, Thailand and the US.
The report said that if all such Chinese travel hopes of going to Australia were fulfilled, this would mean a massive rise over the next three years from 1.2 million tourists a year to 2.9 million, though “Australia infrastructure is unlikely to be able to support such growth”.
Seventy per cent of those surveyed this year named safety as the most important factor determining their holiday destination — an area where Australia scores highly. The report said: “Recent terrorist-related events in Europe have only heightened concerns about travelling to that region.”
A shift in focus for tourists from shopping towards experiencing nature is another trend that is also encouraging more travel to Australia.
Rebecca Chen, a Chengdu-based specialist in Australian tourism at online travel agency RRUU.com supported the survey conclusions, saying that “besides its rich natural resources, its stable political situation and safe social environment together provide an assurance that attracts Chinese tourists, so many are now making it their first choice destination.”
She said that her company caters to the changing interests of Chinese tourists to Australia by offering more personal experiences, including parachuting or camping in national parks, that may involve taking more time.
Lin Junfen, a marketing manager at Utour Travel Agency in Beijing, told The Australian: “Australia has lasting appeal to Chinese tourists. It is widely known for its natural scenery, fresh air and friendly people. Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef are iconic travel attractions to Chinese tourists.”
She said: “Whether they are going abroad for the first time, or frequent travellers who have been to Europe or America several times, people are also flooding to Australia.”
Ms Lin said that the new visa arrangement and the increased marketing by Tourism Australia in this China-Australia Year of Tourism, had helped drive greater interest.
“Now with the summer vacation starting in China, and the National Week holiday following at the start of October, I think the second half of 2017 will witness even more Chinese tourists going to Australia.”
The CLSA report said: “The removal of the Australia-China airline capacity restrictions in December last year will also assist in driving Chinese tourism.
“Sydney Airport remains the most leveraged to this theme, with hotel manager Mantra also a beneficiary,” especially in the Gold Coast, where 23 per cent of its rooms are located.
The Gold Coast is the third most favoured destination for Chinese tourists after Sydney and Melbourne, the survey said.
Australia remains an expensive destination, it said. Thus the average income of the respondents whose first preference was Australia was 25 per cent higher than the panel average. But it is also cheaper and quicker to fly there than to many other destinations, and is in a similar time zone.
The report said: “Chinese tastes in tourism are maturing beyond shopping and casinos,” with an increasing preference for “natural environments”.
It said: “Australia’s natural heritage and access to wilderness and wildlife will contribute to its increasing attractiveness.” It was ranked as the number two world destination for “relaxation and embracing nature”.
As the overall profile of Chinese tourists matures, the report says, they are likely to be younger, with less interest in tour groups and more focus on individual travel. While shopping remains important, “experiential travel” becomes more so.
By ROWAN CALLICK