Coming soon: a dozen 747 loads of Chinese tourists per day

The number of Chinese tourists heading to Australia is set to increase rapidly in the next few years. It's swiftly becoming one of our most significant industries.

It’s becoming clear that one of the industries that will replace the business of exporting minerals and energy to China, if such replacement turns out to be needed, will be the temporary importing of Chinese people.

In June about five Boeing 747 loads of seasonally adjusted Chinese tourists arrived in Australia every day. For the year to June, the total was 769,000 -- a record number -- and second only to New Zealanders.

More importantly, Chinese tourists stay the longest and spend by far the most: $5.1 billion in the year to March, according to Tourism Australia data, or $7,343 each -- double what the Kiwis spend.

In fact Chinese tourism is beginning to change the world. According to The Economist there were 97.3 million outward-bound journeys from China last year, of which about half were for leisure. They spent more than any other country’s tourists – $US129bn, which was $US43bn more than the next biggest spenders, the US.

Only 5 per cent of Chinese people own a passport, and most of those only go as far as Macau and Hong Kong. That number is beginning to rise quickly as China’s per capita income grows.

Obviously Australia is still only getting a small proportion of the travellers at this stage (less than 2 per cent) but a survey of Chinese travellers last month by the accommodation booking website Hotels.com found that while Australia is the 11th most visited destination right now, it topped the destination wish list for the future, just beating France.

An analyst with investment firm, CLSA, quoted by The Economist, says the number of Chinese tourists is expected to double by 2020, and if that survey by Hotels.com is anything to go by, Australia should get a rising share of that rising tourism.

So make that a dozen jumbo jet loads of Chinese tourists, every day.

Surprisingly, it seems that more of them go to Victoria than NSW -- 341,100 to Victoria in the year to March, according to Tourism Victoria, versus 326,170 in the year to May according to Destination NSW’s website.

And an increasing number of Chinese visitors are making their way to Tasmania, mainly to visit a certain lavender farm at Nabowla in the state’s north-east.

The Bridestowe Estate lavender farm had the remarkable good fortune to be visited by a Chinese model, Zhang Xinyu, who posted a picture of herself on Chinese social media with Bridestowe’s small lavender teddy bear, Bobbie the Bear, and it went viral.

Now they can’t keep up: busloads of Chinese tourists arrive every day and are rationed one lavender bear each. The owner, Robert Ravens, told the ABC recently: "It is impossible. Demand exceeds supply by 10 to 1. We do try to make a fair allocation but it really is impossible.

"We get letters and lots of tearful emails and meltdowns in the store when people can only have the statutory one bear."

Tourist venues in Victoria that I have spoken to are now getting a constant stream of buses of Chinese tourists, and according to The Economist’s survey, 80 per cent say that shopping is the main part of their trip. They are expected to buy more luxury goods while traveling next year than tourists from all other counties combined.

It truly is one of Australia’s fastest growing, and most significant, industries.

Interestingly, looking back through Tourism Australia’s campaigns, there doesn’t seem to have been any directed at China, at least for a while. I’m sure Tourism Australia would say it has been doing its bit to promote Australia in China, but the boom in Chinese tourism seems to have happened spontaneously.

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