More Chinese travellers are now enabled and emboldened to seek out Australia’s regional gems, a far cry from how the market was when the tourist boom from China first took off in 2007. By Adelaine Ng
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
Chinese travellers are growing more confident about exploring Australia independently, and regional parts of Down Under are readily embracing them.
At 1.3 million entries in the year to March 2017, China is on the cusp of overtaking New Zealand’s long-held spot as top source market.
But the profile of today’s Chinese visitor is a far cry from their counterparts at the start of Australia’s Chinese tourist boom in 2007.
“The traditional stereotype of the Chinese visitor as someone who just comes to visit their relatives, eats at Chinese restaurants and shops a lot is changing,” said David Beirman, a destination marketing specialist and senior tourism lecturer at University Technology Sydney.
“Many of them are second- or third-time visitors so they want to have a more authentic Australian experience – to see the koala in the great outdoors and visit regional places, especially those with connections to Chinese history, e.g. where coal was discovered in Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria or the mining gold fields in New South Wales and Queensland.”
David Tang, marketing manager at Grand City Tours, observed Chinese demand grow 20 or 30 per cent from the year before, for places like Uluru in the heart of the Australian outback.“This market doesn’t care about hotels or access to Chinese food,” he said. “They only want to see the beautiful views.”
Two key reasons underpin the confidence of the modern Chinese traveller, according to Andy Jiang, Tourism Australia’s country manager for China.
“One of the biggest enablers is the mobile phone and the ability to get information and stay connected,” he said.
“The second is the enormous progress China has made over the past 20 to 30 years as a global power. China’s confidence on the global stage is being reflected and embraced by Chinese consumers, allowing them to venture further, see more and do more.”
Moreover, Chinese travellers are less inhibited of not speaking perfect English, and they no longer crave for traditional tourism products. “They want to experience something unique that reflects their lifestyle, or aspirations of doing not just what everyone else is doing,” Jiang said.
The Chinese experiential trend is also driven in part by social media. Visits to Tasmania, for example, saw a spike after Chinese model Zhang Xinyu posted photos of herself clutching a lavender plushie bear that she and other celebrities acquired from Bridestowe Lavender Estate during a fam courtesy of Tourism Australia.
Zhang’s post garnered massive attention in China, driving many of her young FIT followers to emulate her journey in Tasmania and the lavender farm in particular, remarked Jiang.
As well, regional Australia is now better prepared to take on the cultural challenges that large groups of Chinese tourists might bring. Added Jiang: “A lot of the experiences in regional Australia are run by small- to medium-sized businesses who are very passionate about the market and what they do.”
They are also using the latest technologies that are changing consumer behaviour in China such as WeChat Pay and UnionPay, he observed.
However the farther travellers venture into the outback, the more they must be prepared to have less access to familiar comforts, in terms of language or otherwise, Bierman pointed out.