They are not particularly keen on relaxing on the beach with a beer. So what is attracting half a million Chinese tourists to Queensland each year? Griffith University tourism expert Dr Sarah Gardiner says Chinese tourists love the pristine beaches and blue skies of Queensland but are not beach-goers in the traditional Aussie sense. “They don’t like going in the sun because they don’t want to get sunburnt and they also don’t particularly like going into the water,” says Dr Gardiner. “They may walk along the beach and dip their toes in the water but many of them can’t swim.”
Deloitte Access Economics says China is Queensland’s largest and fastest-growing international visitor market, with the Chinese spending $1.1 billion in 2016-17 on accommodation, meals and a variety of experiences from surfing lessons and helicopter tours to climbing the Story Bridge. Chinese tourists also among the biggest overseas spenders, outlaying an average of $2210 per person in Queensland, 10 per cent more than the average international visitor. Visitors from China to the Brisbane region grew by 7.4 per cent in 2017 and are set to skyrocket once The Star Entertainment Group’s Queen’s Wharf integrated resort is completed in 2024.
The biggest trend is away from large Chinese tour groups to so-called free independent travellers (FITs). And while these Chinese are big shoppers, they also are increasingly splashing out on tours. Unlike Australian tourists who will do only one tour and spend the rest of their day relaxing, Chinese tourists want to experience things they can’t have in China, so they are increasingly doing two or three activities a day.
Dr Gardiner says the challenge for local tour operators is to get into the mindset of the Chinese tourist and what they are seeking from their holiday experience. “While a bush walk for a westerner may be all about the experience, the Chinese are often more attracted to what happens at the end,” she says. “For example, the photo opportunity at the waterfall or scenic spot.”
The surging Chinese tourism market is going to have massive impact on the sector and the numbers will have to be carefully managed. “Previously, when they would arrive in a tour bus at a theme park, they would be taken around separately from everyone else,” she says. “Now increasingly they are going to experience the same thing as other tourists.”
Wealth creation through an explosion of the middle-class demographic in China has produced a more adventurous and independent traveller looking for authentic experiences, from quality hotels and dining, to local and natural attractions.