Australian campaigns aim to lure back Chinese tourists

This long exposure photograph shows Chinese tourists taking photos in front of the Sydney Opera House which is lit up red to welcome in the Lunar New Year of the Monkey in Sydney, Feb 8, 2016. (PHOTO / AFP)

SYDNEY – Australian states and tourism sectors are busy trying to rebuild the largest foreign tourist market of China.

China remains a critical market for Australia, Phillipa Harrison, managing director of the government agency responsible for attracting international visitors, Tourism Australia, told China Daily. “China was our number one market in terms of both visitation and spend before the pandemic and it is great to see Chinese travelers returning to Australia.”

The agency seems confident about the future. “There is no doubt visitation levels will take time to bounce back to 2019 levels, and aviation capacity still needs to rebuild, but there are encouraging signs,” she said.

She said the latest international visitor arrivals data shows that Australia welcomed more than 40,000 travelers from China during February, up from around 15,000 in the previous month.

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“The numbers show Australia remains a top destination for Chinese travelers,” Harrison said.

While the pandemic had a huge impact on international travel around the globe, we are firmly focused on rebuilding our global markets — worth a combined A$1.2 billion pre pandemic — and China is an important part of this.

Erik de Roos, South Australian Tourism Commission

Even Australia’s premier travel industry trade event, the Australian Tourism Exchange, had one word bandied about the most during its recent five-day conference: China.

Held at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in Queensland from April 30 to May 4, the annual event attracted 2,300 delegates from 30 countries, with China having the biggest contingent comprising 113 people representing all aspects of the sector. The Chinese delegation was given red-carpet attention, from surfing lessons to access to some of the country’s premier tourist attractions.

In March, Tourism Australia launched its ‘Don’t Go Small, Go Australia’ campaign in China, and as capacity comes back the agency plans to go live with its ‘Come and Say G’day’ campaign in the key market. Executives from Tourism Australia and state tourism bodies may travel to Chengdu next month for promotion.

Prior to the pandemic, China was Australia’s biggest visitor source market, with 1.4 million tourists in 2019 who spent a total of A$12.4 billion ($8.3 billion at current exchange rate).

Despite an end to global travel restrictions, tourism to Australia has been slow to take off after the COVID-19 setback. 

Mark Olsen, CEO of regional tourism organization Tourism Tropical North Queensland, said China was the region’s largest international market with 190,000 visitors a year before the pandemic.

“We are seeing friends and families arriving in Cairns as well as the Chinese students returning to university,” he said.

“Direct flights are needed to Cairns, and we welcome any movement with China’s list of preferred destinations for group travel,” he told China Daily.

Erik de Roos, executive director of marketing at the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC), said that prior to the pandemic, China was the largest inbound market into South Australia.

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“While the pandemic had a huge impact on international travel around the globe, we are firmly focused on rebuilding our global markets — worth a combined A$1.2 billion pre pandemic — and China is an important part of this,” he said.

He said that SATC has maintained a presence in China throughout the pandemic to ensure South Australia was ready to “jump out of the blocks” when the time was right. 

De Roos said South Australia has a great deal to offer Chinese tourists, with a lot of development over recent years which has seen new luxury hotels opening in the state and new visitor experiences such as wildlife encounters and winery cellar door expansions.

But after three years of border closures and lockdowns, the widely expected wave of returning Chinese tourists has turned out to be a trickle rather than a flood.

Adding to the slow return has been changes to visa rules, rising travel costs, cuts to flights between Australia and China and an exodus of Mandarin-speaking guides.

Flights from the Chinese mainland to Australia in February were just one-fifth of pre-pandemic capacity, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. High fuel costs have jacked up airfares and dented demand. 

According to a recent survey by global consultancy firm McKinsey, there is “massive pent-up demand for international travel of all types” from China.

As per the survey, 40 percent of Chinese travelers said they wanted their next trip to be international, with Australia/New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and Japan being the most desired destinations. 

Reder Wang, managing director of Shenzhen CEPT International Travel Service, said Australia attracts Chinese travelers with its “unique landscape, native animals, as well as the seafood and steak”. 

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In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on May 2, Wang said that despite the pandemic there is still great demand in China to visit Australia.

But Chinese tourists have not returned as quickly as the industry had hoped. Tourism Australia's internal projections suggest the numbers will not recover until 2026.

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