I recently attended a China Business Forum in Newcastle, organised by the University of Newcastle and their Confucius Institute, the Port of Newcastle and NAB. It was a great opportunity to hear what Newcastle and the Hunter Valley businesses are doing to drive Chinese investment and tourism to the region.
Like many regional destinations, the Hunter is trying hard to attract a greater portion of Chinese visitors coming to Australia, with limited success so far. Currently, only 5% of Chinese visitors1 to New South Wales venture beyond Sydney, and only 7% of all nights that Chinese stay in New South Wales are spent in regional locations.
The disparity between Sydney and the rest could not be starker – for the year ending March 2016, Chinese visitors were the number one source of international visitors to Sydney. In fact, almost 1 in 5 international visitors to Sydney were Chinese.
And for regional NSW?
Less than 1 in 20 international visitors were Chinese, and they only just scraped into the top five international visitor markets. Visitors from the UK, New Zealand, USA and Germany were all ahead of them.
The situation for the rest of regional Australia is not much better. In Victoria, nights spent in regional locations account for just 4% of Chinese visitor nights in the state. Queensland regional locations do better (14% of Chinese visitor nights), but that can largely be attributed to Far North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.
Regional Destinations – the key to sustainable tourism
With hotels in Sydney and Melbourne already close to capacity during our summer holidays, regional areas have a huge role to play in making Australia a sustainable destination for Chinese tourists. Next year’s Chinese New Year, the most popular period for Chinese visitors to come to Australia, occurs smack-bang in the middle of school holidays, the Australian Open and various other events in Sydney and Melbourne. While some Chinese may be willing to pay thousands of dollars per night for hotel accommodation, many will not.
So, where will they go?
They may choose cheaper accommodation, or they may decide Australia is just too expensive and go elsewhere. However, the third alternative is for them to spend more of their holidays in regional destinations. This will only happen if tourism industry players can come together to show that regional destinations are a great way to experience Australian life, our food and wine, and our beautiful landscapes. And we all know that is true!
Of course, for first time Chinese visitors to Australia, seeing the Sydney Opera House and the Great Ocean Road are still going to be at the top of the to-do list. Fortunately, 46% of Chinese visiting Australia are now repeat visitors, so there is a great opportunity to encourage this group to visit regional destinations. But there is an even better group to target – and there are over 1 million of them!
Who can regional destinations target?
We already know that the “build it and they will come” approach will not work. To make regional destinations an attractive option for Chinese visitors, local tourism groups will need to step up the ante and create the demand. And there is one group that I believe regional destinations could focus on…
Chinese already living in Australia!
There are over 1 million people who were born in China who are living, working and studying in Australia. This is an extremely influential group for regional destinations to target, given their connections back to China.
In particular, there are almost 150,000 Chinese international students in Australia – and numerous studies2 have shown that they want to travel and experience Australian life while they’re here. Furthermore, given their propensity to share their experiences via social media, Chinese international students are a fantastic way for regional destinations to get their word out to a much larger audience. Win over the students, win over China.
For instance, the recent influx of Chinese tourists to Sea Lake in regional Victoria was due to some amazing photos posted on Chinese social media that went viral. And I’d bet those first photos were posted by some Chinese international students! How great would it be if your destination could replicate that kind of buzz?
So, how can regional tourism destinations make the most of this opportunity?
China Ready Now is here to help! We are currently planning some pilot itineraries for Chinese international students to experience a range of regional destinations – and we’re looking for partners! If you think your regional destination could benefit from some Chinese students visiting and sharing their experiences on social media and travel blogs, then we’d love to hear from you!
To contact Justin directly, send an email here or call 0490 362 896.
- It is important to note the distinction between “visitors” and “tourists” – one that many commentators fail to observe when talking about Chinese arrivals. Tourism Research Australia uses the term “visitor” to describe four broad categories: Holiday; Visiting friends and relatives (VFR); Business and Education. Unfortunately, statistics are not available on how many “leisure tourists” (generally considered the Holiday and VFR markets combined) are visiting regional areas, only the total number of “visitors”.
- For instance, a recent study by Dr Gabby Walters and Dr Monica Chien of the University of Queensland showed that 60% of Chinese international students wanted to “go bush” and encounter nature and wildlife. An earlier paper by Karen Hughes, Jie Wang and Mengya Shu (also of UQ) concluded that Chinese students are interested in short-stay travel packages that feature Australia’s natural environment and iconic landscapes.