THERE is one country that will stand apart from all others in the international tourism market over the coming decade. China is expected to dominate growth in international tourism, based on its positive economic prospects, growing middle class and progressive removal of travel restrictions.
The number of Chinese tourists coming to Australia is tipped to grow by 16.5 per cent per year over the coming decade, according to the Tourism Forecasting Council.
By the year 2012, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Australia will be about 850,000, or about 10 per cent of all international arrivals.
South Korea is the only other country expected to grow strongly, with the number of arrivals forecast to grow by 8.7 per cent a year.
This positive outlook stands in contrast to arrivals from New Zealand, Japan and North America – currently some of Australia’s biggest tourist markets – which are expected to grow by between 2 per cent and 3 per cent a year.
In overall terms, the total number of international tourists coming to Australia is expected to grow by a modest 4.8 per cent per year.
The outlook for domestic tourism, which accounts for three-quarters of Australia’s total tourism activity, is even grimmer. Growth over the next decade is forecast to be just 0.3 per cent/year.
Tourist operators wanting to share in the expected growth of Chinese tourism will have to jump through stringent regulatory hoops.
Chinese tourism is tightly regulated, by both the Chinese and Australian authorities.
In fact, the tight controls exercised by Australia, including over entry visas, are not applied to any other tourist generating country.
While China Southern airlines last month announced it was considering direct flights into Perth International Airport, tourist operators in WA currently have to contend with the lack of direct flights, in contrast to the east coast, which is serviced by four airlines.
Tourism Minister Clive Brown agrees the opportunities out of China are very significant, helped by Chinese government initiatives to facilitate international travel.
This includes the appointment of extra “authorised travel agencies” to handle all outbound tourism.
Mr Brown also acknowledges that Perth has a very small part of the market.
He hopes that the combination of business, education and tourism links will be sufficient to justify the introduction of direct flights between Perth and China.
At this stage there are four inbound tour operators in Perth that have been registered by the Australian government to receive Chinese groups.
(Independent travel is prohibited, and only escorted group tours with Chinese guides are permitted.)
The four operators are Orient Express, Mandarin Holidays, Platinum Holidays and Wel-Travel.
Peter Martin, the general manager of Sime Darby Travel (the owner of Mandarin Holidays), describes the Chinese leisure market as being still in its infancy.
He estimates that only 1-2 per cent of Chinese tourists coming to Australia venture as far as Perth.
Like other tour operators, he wants the WA Tourism Commission to work with industry to lift awareness of WA within China.
The strict controls imposed by China on outbound tourism include limits on the number of countries granted Approved Destination Status (ADS).
Australia has benefited from this arrangement, since it was the first Western nation to be granted ADS status, in 1999.
It is still one of only a handful of Western nations with this privileged status. However it is expected that many other Western nations will be granted ADS status over the next decade, eroding Australia’s current advantage.
In preparation for increased Chinese arrivals, Perth TAFE has launched a 20-week training pro-gram for Mandarin speaking tour guides.
Mr Brown said the course was a first for Australia.As well as China, the course will benefit visitors from Taiwan, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia where Mandarin is spoken.