Asian tourist numbers soar

Southern star ... Chinese tourists on the Eureka Skydeck in Melbourne.
Southern star ... Chinese tourists on the Eureka Skydeck in Melbourne.

High-spending Chinese lead the way as visitors put luxury shopping ahead of tourist sites, writes Robert Upe.

Australian tourism continues to be buoyed by Asia, with Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released on November 6 showing that September visits from China increased by 26.5 per cent compared with the same month last year.

More than 43,000 Chinese came to Australia during September and strong growth was also recorded from the key markets of Singapore and Hong Kong, up 14.5 per cent each, and Malaysia, up 11.4 per cent.

A spokesman for Tourism Australia, Simon Westaway, says the figures reflect the continued strength of the Asian visitor market and the continued growth of Australia's inbound tourism, which went up by 3 per cent overall during the past 12 months.

"Things are certainly starting to heat up, overwhelmingly driven by Asia, but we have also had growth out of the US [up 13.1 per cent], and Japan is also coming back [up 6.6 per cent]."

Last year 542,000 Chinese visited Australia, almost 20 per cent growth compared with 2010, and the number is expected to exceed 600,000 visitors this year.

The chief executive officer of Destination Melbourne, Chris Buckingham, says the number of Chinese visiting the city is growing rapidly. "The increase in Chinese visitors in the past few years has been substantial."

Buckingham says the Chinese are one of the city's biggest groups of overseas visitors. According to Tourism Victoria research, they accounted for the largest proportion of expenditure by tourists in Victoria in 2010, spending $685 million.

"They are spending big on leisure activities, shopping at places such as the Collins Street fashion boutiques and seeking out food experiences," he says.

A former Australian ambassador to China, Dr Geoff Raby, told a tourism conference in Canberra earlier this month that the biggest single complaint he heard from Chinese tourists coming here was that they couldn't spend enough money.

Dr Raby said Chinese tourists liked to travel to European cities such as Paris, Milan and Rome, where they could buy expensive clothing and handbag brands.

"Australia has a strong identity with Chinese visitors of clean air and a safe urban environment, but there are just not enough high-end things for them to spend money on.

"They may drive the most fancy cars in Beijing and Shanghai, but it is still a fairly unsophisticated tourist market," he said in reference to the Chinese preference for luxury goods over tourist sites.

Dr Raby said Australia had sensibly identified the growing Chinese middle class as a key tourist target market.

"But, of course, there are risks because, like any other country, China has a cyclical economy. It is also a one-party system, so there is a degree of political fragility.

"China is our largest export market and I think in time that will ultimately be true for tourism."

Tourism Australia predicts that by 2020 there will be 100 million Chinese travelling the world.

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This story Asian tourist numbers soar first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.