The Australian mining boom is over and with it a strong dollar. Tourism is well-positioned to help fill the budgetary gap caused by the collapse of mineral prices and Asian visitors are happy to provide the money. Tourists from Asia value the clean, green environment, iconic attractions, cultural and natural experiences, and food and wine that we can offer. The Queensland government has recognised this potential with additional funding for tourism marketing and small business development. These initiatives are important and broadly well targeted but the devil is in the detail. Here are a number of issues that need to be addressed to maximise the money that Queensland earns from Asian and particularly Chinese visitors.

Over the past 70 years, Australia has sold its tourism products and services firstly to internal markets (Australians holidaying in Australia) and then to Western mostly English-speaking international visitors. We had some success with Japan in the late 1980s and more recently with Asian countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Mostly we sold visitors from these countries sightseeing to icons such as Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, and the Sydney Opera House. However, we got very little repeat business. Visitors were happy to see the sights but did not engage significantly with our culture and the everyday life of Australians. We are still selling sightseeing and icons today – but what our visitors want has moved on.

Today’s visitor wants more emotional and memorable experiences from their holiday. While Australia has the potential to provide these experiences there is a clear need for training and innovation in how to do this amongst small businesses who make up the majority of over 95% of companies involved in tourism. There are some really good examples of entrepreneurs adapting to Chinese tastes and providing valuable experiences. An example is “catch a crab tours” which involve no major physical activity but do provide an opportunity to each local food that is fresh. Crabs are a common meal in China but of course there are issues about their provenance. Catching a crab in the “wild” and then cooking and eating it can provide a truly memorable experience for a Chinese visitor.However some of the tourism small business retailing sector are still selling products for Western markets. On a recent study tour, I took a group of Chinese students to a well-known Australian attraction and asked them to look at the souvenirs that were available. They came back laughing saying that all souvenirs were made in China. There are similar issues with fashion products (dresses and other clothing) that are not attuned to Chinese taste and body sizes.

It can be great to provide wonderful outdoor experiences during the daytime but what about entertainment at night. The availability of night entertainment is very important for Asian visitors who live in cities where services are available pretty much 24 hours a day. Also much of our entertainment does not provide culturally appropriate links. Karaoke on the beach? We need to be more creative about providing memorable experiences. Similarly, Chinese people are being offered Australian or American shopping and entertainment brands which are completely unknown to them. In the long term this may be a good approach but in the short term or in some sectors there is a need for more familiar Chinese brands, especially in food and shopping. Of course this is not to say that everything needs to be Chinese. There must be a balance in maintaining Australian authenticity but also providing comfortable and appropriate activities and lifestyle.

Griffith Institute for Tourism based on the Gold Coast has been working with small tourism businesses to adapt their products to the Chinese. Griffith Institute for Tourism researchers have worked with “Get Wet Surf School” to develop tourism experiences that match the needs of Chinese visitors and this resulted in that business winning the Queensland Tourism Industry Council innovation award for 2015. There is also a need for better targeted marketing in China for Australian small businesses. The Griffith Institute for Tourism has been working with Griffith University’s Confucius Institute to help small tourism operators develop a Chinese webpage. Griffith Institute for Tourism have also looking at reactions to Australian tourism advertising in China and found a number of differences in how the consumer is viewing the ads.

In order for Australia to capitalise on the growth of tourism from Asia, we can’t just sell visitors the same as what we have been selling to Australians. Instead we need culturally appropriate small business development and innovation. Griffith Institute for Tourism researchers are active in this area and have developed links with a number of Chinese universities to help create this capacity.

Article by Professor Noel Scott – Griffith Institute for Tourism Deputy Director