Australian tourism operators have reported a boom in interest from Chinese holidaymakers wanting to visit Australia, after China relaxed travel rules for its citizens.
The country eased COVID-19 travel restrictions earlier this week, lifting quarantine requirements for incoming travellers for the first time in three years, meaning Chinese tourists can easily venture overseas and return home.
Many Chinese nationals are expected to start travelling abroad again – a long-awaited shift for Australian tourist spots like the Great Ocean Road, Gold Coast and the Great Barrier Reef.
According to Tourism Australia, in 2019 China was “Australia’s first largest inbound market for visitor arrivals and largest market for total spend and visitor nights”.
Although travel will not quickly return to pre-pandemic levels, tourism operators are reporting a spike in inquiries since authorities announced restrictions would be lifted on January 8.
“The border has only just opened, but we’ve got many inquiries from the Chinese market … it’s very busy in the office now,” David Tang, sales and marketing director at Grandcity Travel, told The New Daily.
“It’s going to be a big year, very different to last year.”
Mr Tang said many of the inquiries are for large group bookings (50 to 100 people) through Chinese-based travel agents.
Before the pandemic, Grandcity Travel saw about 200,000 to 250,000 customers from mainland China per year.
The Victorian-based company’s most popular day tours included trips to the Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island and Puffing Billy, the preserved steam railway.
The first wave of travellers from China are expected to be friends and families reuniting, before tourist numbers start to take off in June and July, which is typically when the summer holidays begin in China.
Tourist profiles change
Mr Tang has noticed a shift in the types of people making enquiries.
In the past older Chinese people, in their 50s and 60s, made the most bookings.
This age group typically has more time and money and is able to holiday during off-peak times to make the most of cheaper packages on offer.
Now it’s younger travellers; families, lone travellers and students. He thinks this could be because older Chinese are worried about contracting COVID-19.
All travellers from China have to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test and provide a negative result before coming to Australia.
Mr Tang is excited at the prospect of Chinese tourists returning to Australian shores.
“Our main market is in mainland China, Hong Kong and that Asian Pacific passenger, so everyone was excited when they reopened the border. I think not only for ourselves but also for restaurants, hotels and all attractions. We are all very excited at the moment,” he said.
It has been a rough few years for tourism operators who focus on providing the Chinese market with an authentic Australian experience.
Many companies haven’t survived, and others have had to readjust to get by.
John Li owns GLV Coaches, a specialist bus charter company in Victoria.
He told TND that his business survived the pandemic by catering to other international travellers, domestic tourists and running school tours.
Mr Li is confident business will pick up with the return of Chinese tourists, but he is worried the faltering Chinese economy might mean people are hesitant to travel.
“I’m very optimistic, but also worried because of the economic downturn in China. It probably won’t completely bounce back. It’s impossible to return to the before times.”
Mr Li said rising fuel costs and staffing issues have also affected his business.
He said he has struggled to replace coach drivers who left the industry to seek more reliable work and has had to increase wages to retain others.
Data from Tourism Research Australia shows that Chinese tourists spent about $12.4 billion in Australia in 2019.
In 2021, only 6550 visitors from China arrived in Australia, considerably less than in pre-pandemic times when about 1.4 million Chinese people visited our shores annually.
‘Reality of over-tourism’
Trevor Smit, owner of Go West Tours, told TND that since the announcement that the restrictions would be eased, he has received many inquiries from Chinese travel agents wanting to establish new relationships with tour operators.
“There’s definitely a shift in the market towards travelling a bit less in groups and more independently,” he said.
“Obviously, there’s a huge market there. If you’re talking 2 to 3 per cent of the market, that’s millions of people.
“These particular travel agencies are looking to access a more Australian experience for their customers.”
Mr Smit is looking forward to Chinese tourists returning to Australia, but he is worried that tourism infrastructure may not support a substantial increase in numbers.
He said popular tourist destinations around the globe had been overcrowded as people returned to travel.
“We’d be stoked to see Chinese tourists come back, but there is a worldwide reality of over-tourism,” he said.
“Europe has had big issues. In recent years Amsterdam has been nicknamed Amster-cram because there were so many people there.
“Managing this longer-term issue is not specific to Chinese tourism, but the return of Chinese visitors will contribute to the problem.”