Both the Australian tourism industry and the Australian economy have enjoyed massive benefits from the rapid growth in Chinese inbound tourism in recent years.
In figures released by Tourism Australia in May 2018, China is now the single biggest source market for Australian tourism both in absolute number and in money spent. In the year ending March 2018, just over 1.4 million Chinese citizens visited Australia and they spent almost $11 billion dollars or just over $8,000 per visitor.
Almost one-in-six international visitors to Australia are from China and one quarter of the $44 billion spent by international visitation to Australia comes from China.
What makes the above figures truly remarkable is that from minimal Chinese outbound tourism in 1998, China has become the world’s leading tourism-generating country.
Australia currently attracts one percent of the 140 million Chinese outbound tourists. However due to the inspired marketing strategies of Tourism Australia and the state tourism boards, Australia attracts China’s big spenders.
To illustrate this, the nine million Chinese tourists who visited Thailand in 2017 spent the same money as the 1.4 million who visited Australia.
Australia has benefited enormously from being the first non-Asia country to have signed an agreement with the Chinese government in 1999 granting Australia approved destination status.
Today 147 countries hold this status, but Australia benefited from being at the head of the queue and since then, millions of Chinese have followed on from returning Chinese tourists who have overwhelmingly enjoyed their stays in Australia.
The potential for growth remains strong. Currently about ten percent of China’s population travels internationally and this percentage is almost certain to grow as Chinese living standards and earnings grow.
Dr George Chen, chief forecast analyst at Tourism Research Australia, believes that based on current indications, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Australia will exceed three million by 2025.
While the numbers and the potential for growth in Chinese tourism are truly staggering, actual and potential growth is challenging for all sectors of the tourism industry. The accommodation sector is at the pointy end of the challenge to ensure that the Australian tourism industry is China ready.
Tourism Australia, the state tourism boards, The Australian Tourism Export Council and Tourism Accommodation Australia have actively helped Australian accommodation providers to enhance their services to match the needs of Chinese visitors.
Recently, Tourism Accommodation Australia’s CEO, Carol Giuseppi spoke to my tourism students at the University of Technology-Sydney. In a broad-ranging talk she highlighted the need for Australian hoteliers to be China ready. This means more than hotels serving conjee soup on the menu for breakfast, but adopting a holistic approach to matching the cultural, dietary and service expectations of Chinese visitors.
Many Australian tourism professionals, including hotel managers and staff, have visited China to examine service expectations of Chinese hotel guests on home soil – but more need to do so.
It is important that hotels have printed material, websites, apps, menus and signage, maps, safety and tourist information with a Chinese language translation.
Many capital city hotels have done well in adapting to a growing Chinese clientele, but in regional Australia there is a long way to go before many are ready to properly welcome Chinese visitors.
A major challenge for Australian accommodation providers is the acute skills shortage in the hotel sector. Currently the entire Australian tourism industry has a skills shortage of about 50,000 people, most of it in the accommodation sector.
Some of these job vacancies are filled by workers on temporary work visas in the short term. However, this is a band-aid solution.
The anticipated growth in all international tourist visits to Australia (especially Chinese) means that there is an urgent need to train, recruit and motivate young Australians to work in the accommodation sector.
The opportunities for young Australians, with varied ethnic backgrounds and appropriate language skills to make a real contribution to the accommodation sector, have never been greater. The demand for hotel staff fluent in Mandarin and other Chinese dialects is already great and will continue to grow.
Language skills are vital to service an international market, especially the Chinese visitors who generally do not speak English.
There is a need to ensure that Australian training and education providers from vocational training colleges, TAFEs, private hotel schools and of course, universities are training their students to be both job ready and China ready.
Scott Morrison (a former CEO of Tourism Australia) is the most tourism-savvy Prime Minister in Australian history. We can only hope that this may translate into greater government support for the tourism industry, tourism trainers and especially accommodation providers in ensuring that Australian tourism is indeed China ready.
Dr David Beirman is a senior lecturer and coordinator of tourism in the management discipline group, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney. Prior to joining UTS in 2009, he spent 30 years in the tourism industry as a travel agent, wholesaler and destination manager.