Tourism operators unfazed by new COVID-19 testing requirements for Chinese visitors

Tourism operators say mandatory COVID-19 testing for Chinese travellers entering Australia is unlikely to impact

Tourism operators say mandatory COVID-19 testing for Chinese travellers entering Australia is unlikely to impact the local market significantly — at least in the short term. 

Travellers from China to Australia will need to complete a pre-departure COVID-19 test with a negative result from this Thursday, as part of new requirements introduced by the Australian government in response to skyrocketing case numbers in China.

Survey data from late 2022 showed visitor numbers from China to Australia were 95 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

Australian Tourism Industry Council deputy chair Shaun de Bruyn said that, before COVID-19, Chinese visitors were “incredibly important” to the tourism industry, and visitation numbers were yet to bounce back.

He said any return of Chinese visitors — even with testing restrictions — was good news.

“At the end of the day, the Australian health authorities are keeping us safe,” he said.

“The fact that Chinese visitation during COVID was zero — the growth will be slower than it would have been [without restrictions] but there’s still growth, so that’s a positive.” 

‘Strong support from the domestic market’

Destination Phillip Island general manager Kim Storey said if testing requirements remained in place, the move by the government would take several months to have an impact. 

Aerial view of a packed Penguin Parade at Phillip Island.
Tour groups flock to Penguin Parade on Phillip Island to see the Little Penguins returning to their burrows.(Supplied: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

“I think it’s going to take a long time to recover the Chinese tourism market to the area,” Ms Storey said.

“Given that often the peak travel time for China was during our winter periods, I’d expect to see that travel reorganised and flowing into Australia at that time.”

She said before the pandemic Chinese tourists were the largest market in Phillip Island.

“We’ve seen very strong support from the domestic market over the last couple of years, and that’s been really helpful to our whole tourism sector,” Ms Storey said.

“We’ve also seen some growth from other international markets like New Zealand and India.”

Chinese tourist at Lake Tyrrell, Sea Lake.
Lake Tyrrell at Sea Lake is a holiday destination popular with Chinese tourists.(ABC Rural: Danielle Grindlay)

Robyn Ryder, an Airbnb property owner at Sea Lake in Victoria’s Mallee region, said she was hopeful COVID-19 testing would not have a big impact on those travelling from China. 

“It’s just a test and it’s easy to do,” she said. 

“The international Chinese just haven’t been coming back in the numbers we had prior to COVID. But we certainly hope they do.”

She said despite the decline in international tourists, Chinese nationals living in Victoria were still visiting the region.

“We have many Chinese people coming from Melbourne who are studying and working there,” she said.

Business from India increasing

Terry Smit runs Go West Tours, which takes visitors to the Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island, the Yarra Valley and other Victorian destinations.

He said the industry had bounced back since the pandemic thanks to business from new markets.

Terry Smit sits in a bus at the drivers seat, elbow hanging out the window, looking at the camera
Terry Smit says his business is hosting more visitors from India and Singapore. (Supplied: Terry Smit)

“When I’m asked where people are coming from, my answer to date has been ‘everywhere but China’,” he said. 

“It speaks to the fact Australia is a very popular destination.”