Australia’s tourism industry is continuing its record smashing trend with annual Chinese visitor numbers hitting one million for the first time in data released by the ABS this week (Jan 12).
China continues to be Australia’s fastest growing major source market, ahead of India with growth of 18.0 per cent for the same period.
There were 177,900 more Chinese visitors in the year ending November 2015 than in the previous year (823,000), equating to growth of 21.6 per cent.
Australia’s Tourism Minister, Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck, said the figures were great news for the nation.
“The Government has identified tourism as one of five key National Investment Priorities, leading to increased tourism infrastructure investment,” he said. “We have, and will continue to, focus on targeted international marketing and undertaking visa reforms.
“Our measures, such as opening a new Australian Visa Application Centre in Chengdu, China and streamlining visa application processes are making it easier for Chinese tourists to come to Australia, which will support continued growth into the future.
“While the tourism industry is clearly thriving, there is still more work to be done to ensure we can cater for the increased demand into the future and to encourage tourists to visit our unique rural and regional areas.
“China is a vitally important market for Australia’s tourism industry growth. Visitor arrivals from China grew three times faster than the overall increase in the past year, and spending increased 43 per cent – double the previous year’s growth rate.
“China is now Australia’s most valuable tourism market, with Chinese visitors currently spending more than AUD$7.7 billion annually. This includes $1.3 billion on shopping, which accounts for 37 per cent of all spending on shopping by international visitors to Australia.
“Tourism Australia research shows Australia is the top long-haul ‘wish list’ destination for Chinese travellers, showing that our focused international marketing is paying dividends.
“The strong growth in visitation from China is set to continue with Tourism Research Australia forecasts estimating arrivals to double to two million and their spending to grow 7 per cent per year to reach $13.7 billion by 2024–25.
“The Government will be working hard to spread the benefits from the surge in tourists to all Australians through greater infrastructure investment and further streamlining visa and entry processes, leading to more job opportunities in regional Australia,” he said.
Growing the Chinese inbound market to over one million visitors is a triumph for Australian tourism, says Tourism Accommodation Chair (TAA) Chair, Martin Ferguson, but the industry will need to be able to access higher-levels of skilled workers if Australia is to continue growing the market.
Ferguson, a former Federal Tourism Minister, said the Australian tourism and hospitality industry had stepped up to the mark to attract greater numbers of Chinese visitors, with Tourism Australia and the Government providing support through proactive marketing, free trade agreements and facilitation of bilateral airline agreements.
However, he said with international competitors increasingly targeting China for their tourism business, Australia would need to offer the highest levels of service to maintain and grow its market position.
“The Federal Government has rightfully identified tourism as one of five major National Investment Priorities, but a recent report on the Australian Tourism Labour Force identified that the industry would need some 123,000 additional workers, including over 60,000 skilled positions, by 2020 if we are to keep up with demand,” Ferguson said.
“The hotel industry is undertaking its largest expansionary phase in decades, which will provide the quality of accommodation needed by the Chinese market, but staffing and service standards are equally important, and the industry has reached a bottle neck in terms of skilled workers.
“While hotel groups are doing their best to recruit and train, a combination of out-dated industrial relations conditions and restrictions on temporary skilled migration is holding back the industry’s potential to grow employment and enhance service standards.
“Current Minister for Tourism, Senator Colbeck, said that ‘there is still more work to be done to ensure we can cater for the increased demand into the future and to encourage tourists to visit our unique rural and regional areas’. He is very correct in this view, with labour shortages one of the most critical factors affecting regional and remote performance. We would call on the Government to act urgently to address these issues to ensure operators can access skilled staff to provide high quality service standards.
“When international visitors come to this country they – just like Australians – expect to see restaurants, shops and attractions open across weekends and on public holidays, but with 1950s industrial relations conditions still in place, it is a disincentive for businesses to open. We hope that the Fair Work Commission will follow the lead of the Productivity Commission and accept that IR provisions need to be updated to the 21st century to benefit both tourism businesses and workers,” Ferguson said.