Australia chases China tourism dollar

JONATHAN PEARLMAN
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2014
Chinese tourist
DANIEL MUNOZ/ Reuters

BIG DOLLARS: Australia is working hard to attract Chinese tourists.

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A Chinese tourism boom in Australia has left hotels and tour operators scrambling to adapt. They are hiring Mandarin speakers, changing menus and even adjusting the temperature on coach rides.

The influx has begun to transform the tourism industry. Visitor numbers there were soaring with 713,900 Chinese arrivals last year, up from 190,000 in 2002.

At hotels in big cities, congee and noodles are standard items at the breakfast buffet and Mandarin-speakers are in abundance.

Most big hotels, museums and attractions have introduced special Chinese cultural-awareness training for staff, including learning basic Mandarin, as well as how to welcome customers and bid them farewell.

Despite the strong Australian dollar, Chinese visitors spent A$4.7billion (NZ$5.1b) last year - more than any other nationality.

Tourism Australia was expecting more than a million Chinese visitors by 2020.

"We're actually seeing a change in the mix of Chinese visitors," a spokesman said.

"Declines in the group market are being offset by a robust independent traveller market. This trend aligns perfectly with our China strategy of targeting the more affluent, independent traveller."

The Chinese influence is visible across the country.

At wineries in South Australia's Barossa Valley, tasting notes are now available in Chinese. Madame Tussauds in Sydney has installed Chinese wax figures, such as that of action star Jackie Chan.

At the Sovereign Hill gold rush museum in Victoria, a tour has been introduced at the request of Chinese visitors. Conducted in Mandarin or Cantonese, it focuses on the experience of Chinese miners and shopkeepers on the Australian goldfields.

Australia's largest hotel group, Accor, has introduced training for staff and specialised Chinese services and facilities at 54 hotels, mainly in city centres.

Guests receive welcome booklets in Chinese, describing the hotel services, including where to smoke - a practice increasingly banned in Australian public spaces. Visitors can request Chinese keyboard covers, watch Chinese TV stations, request Chinese newspapers, and increasingly pay with Chinese UnionPay bank cards.

The hotels have a telephone translation service, Chinese signage, green or jasmine tea in rooms and bars, and chopsticks, Chinese soup spoons and toothpicks in restaurants.

During the Chinese New Year, dragons filled lobbies and the nightly turndown service included a hongbao with chocolate coins.

"With the world chasing the Chinese market, we need to stay ahead of the pack," an international sales director at Accor,  Kate Marshall, said.

China accounts for 20 per cent of the group's total wholesale market - which includes all international and domestic visitors but excludes local corporate business and events - more than any other nation. Yet the company believes the boom is only just beginning.

"When we look at the map of China, we have only touched on a small part of China," Marshall said.

"We have concentrated on Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. We are only just venturing out to second- and third-tier cities."

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But some areas outside Australia's main cities have missed out on the boom. For instance, in the Hunter Valley wine region outside Sydney, Chinese visitors rank only fifth. The local tourism authority is working on changing that, including adding translation services.

"Tourism in the Hunter has long been synonymous with Europe and America," tourism authority head Will Creedon said.

 "However, the world is shifting and we should ensure we shift with it."

- MCT

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