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Boosting Chinese tourists to our shores

by Kelly Stone

The Sydney Opera House.More than 84 million Chinese tourists departed China last year – but despite the burgeoning growth of China’s outbound tourism market, less than one per cent of them came to Australia.

While China has emerged to be a significant inbound tourism market to Australia, a UniSA researcher says the international comparisons with countries like the United States show more needs to be done to boost Chinese visitors to our shores.

Just over 626,000 Chinese tourists came to Australia in 2012, compared to 1.5 million who travelled to the United States.

Dr Sam Huang.UniSA Centre for Tourism and Leisure Management researcher Dr Sam Huang (pictured right), says research into Chinese tourist behaviour is critical to attracting more of the lucrative Chinese tourism dollar to Australia.

Dr Huang says Australia was granted Approved Destination Status (ADS) by the Chinese government in 1999, with the US following another nine years later in 2008.

“However the US is now attracting more Chinese people than we are – we are lagging behind,” he says.

“The early grant of ADS by the Chinese government does not seem to have endowed Australia with a salient first mover advantage. Some regional destinations such as Japan are receiving more mainland Chinese tourists even though Japan secured ADS in 2000, later than Australia.”

Dr Huang worked for the China National Tourism Administration for seven years before moving into academia. He studies Chinese tourist behaviour with the aim of helping the Australian tourism industry formulate good strategies for increasing inbound China tourism business.

He says there is a need to better understand Chinese travellers in general and how they perceive Australia as a tourist destination of particular interest.

UniSA recently ranked number 11 in the world for institutional contributions to China tourism research (see breakout story below).

Dr Huang says his research found Chinese people identified Australia’s fauna – namely the kangaroo – when asked what first comes to mind in relation to Australia as a tourist destination.

“Iconic architecture and attractions, such as the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the Great Barrier Reef, are also frequently mentioned,” he says.

“The fact the current Prime Minister can speak Chinese and understands Chinese culture also seems to bring a positive feeling towards Australia in general.

“However, Chinese people were familiar with Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns rather than cities like Adelaide. And South Australia’s percentage of visitors compared to the eastern states is very small.”

Dr Huang says the South Australian Government has made positive progress with its South Australia-China Engagement Strategy and with the prospect China Southern Airlines will fly direct into Adelaide.

He says providing meaningful and memorable experiences for Chinese visitors is the key to increasing our tourism share.

Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island.“South Australia has world class attractions like the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale wine regions and our world class nature-based tourist attraction in Kangaroo Island that Chinese people will like,” he says.

“There is growing demand from independent travellers from China – this emerging market of younger Chinese people will soon rival the mass bus tour market which currently dominates how Chinese visitors travel to Australia.

“We do need to think about the future and how the China market will be evolving.

“There are new trends we will have to capture. We will have to understand this new market and redesign our supply systems, whether we have enough Mandarin-speaking tour guides, whether we have the right styles of accommodation they are seeking … if you think about regional economies, if we can guide Chinese tourists to different parts of Australia, we’ll make more economic contribution across the nation.

“For example, if more Chinese tourists visit our wine regions, they will become more knowledgeable about our wines and potentially they will want to consume our wines when they return home, so tourism can be a trigger for trade relations.”

Dr Huang says more research is imperative for South Australia and Australia increasing its competitive advantage as a tourism destination and attracting more Chinese visitors in the future.

China tourism research accolade

A recent study has found the University of South Australia ranks number 11 in the world and number two in Australia for institutional contributions to China tourism research.

The review study article titled ‘Current State of China Tourism Research’ was published in Current Issues in Tourism. It was conducted by an international joint research team with researchers from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Deakin University who reviewed 147 published research articles on China tourism authored by 272 scholars from 132 institutions around the world.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University ranked first, while Queensland’s James Cook University ranked fifth.