The Chi­nese are com­ing — and spend­ing. But is the Gold Coast’s tourism in­dus­try up to the chal­lenge?

Ja­panese tourists once couldn’t get enough of the Gold Coast. Now it is the Chi­nese who are com­ing in bur­geon­ing num­bers, lured by the sandy beaches, laid-back life­style, theme parks, wildlife and won­der­ful weather. And they are vis­it­ing not only to re­lax

The Australian - The Deal - - News - By Phil Hawkes l Pho­tog­ra­phy Ed­die Sa­farik

Ni­cholas Liu came to the Gold Coast just over a decade ago from Bei­jing when Chi­nese tourism to Aus­tralia was in its early days. He liked the area so much he de­cided to stay and three years ago set up his own com­pany, Aus­tralian Pre­mium Hol­i­days.

Now with China’s ris­ing wealth, the fall­ing Aus­tralian dol­lar and in­creas­ing num­ber of

flights from China to Queens­land, he is rid­ing the boom in tourists from his home­land.

China is now the most lu­cra­tive source of for­eign tourist rev­enue for Aus­tralia, bring­ing in $4.5 bil­lion in the year to last March. And the Gold Coast with its com­bi­na­tion of sun, sandy beaches, theme parks, wildlife, good food and re­laxed cul­ture, and a handy casino, is one of the fastest-grow­ing des­ti­na­tions in the coun­try.

In the 12 months to the end of Septem­ber, the num­ber of tourists from China to the Gold Coast jumped by more than 36 per cent to more than 202,000 — dou­ble the growth rate

for the whole of Aus­tralia, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures sup­plied by Tourism Re­search Aus­tralia.

Chi­nese tourists are now the largest sin­gle source of over­seas vis­i­tors to the Gold Coast, Aus­tralia’s sixth-largest city, their in­creas­ing in­ter­est help­ing to turn around the re­gion’s tourism busi­ness. The rapid growth saw to­tal vis­i­tors from main­land China to the re­gion by­pass those from New Zealand, which now sup­plies 181,000 tourists a year, and eas­ily out­strip the fall­ing mar­ket from Ja­pan of only 56,000 a year. The in­crease in num­bers trans­lated into an ex­tra 195,000 vis­i­tor nights over the year from China alone.

“The mar­ket has be­come stronger be­cause most Chi­nese clients are will­ing to go over­seas

for travel,” says Liu, who worked in the travel in­dus­try in China for a decade be­fore mov­ing to Aus­tralia in 2003 with a Chi­nese travel agent.

“Aus­tralia is a re­ally pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for the Chi­nese mar­ket due to its Western cul­ture, and Bar­rier Reef, some unique an­i­mals and the [Syd­ney] Opera House. They love the Gold Coast as most of the tourists live in the hin­ter­land of China and they love the ocean and the beach. The Gold Coast has lovely beaches, good weather, friendly lo­cal people and it is suit­able for Chi­nese vis­i­tors.”

A com­bi­na­tion of a mar­ket­ing push and in­creased flights by air­lines such as Malaysia

based AirAsia X, Sin­ga­pore-based Scoot to the Gold Coast and China South­ern Air­lines into Bris­bane has helped boost the num­bers.

“We’re on a roll now,” says Martin Win­ter, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gold Coast Tourism. “It was pretty rough when the GFC hit do­mes­tic tourism, then the strong Aussie dol­lar hit our in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and we had se­vere weather events in our peak sum­mer sea­sons in 2011 and 2012. But in the past two years, we’ve turned the busi­ness around and our over­all in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tor ar­rivals and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tor spend are both up 9 per cent in 2013.”

With vis­i­tors from China now more than four times the num­ber who were com­ing in 2003, when Liu moved to Aus­tralia, Gold Coast Tourism is pri­ori­tis­ing its in­ter­na­tional

mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to fo­cus on China and South­east Asia. The or­gan­i­sa­tion set up its

own of­fice in Shang­hai in 2009 and op­er­ates through­out China, lev­er­ag­ing the ef­forts of Tourism Aus­tralia and Tourism Queens­land.

The Vis­it­Gold­Coast China page on Weibo (a hy­brid Face­book/ Twit­ter site) has at­tracted well over half a mil­lion “Gold Coast fol­low­ers”

in just over six months. In June, more than 300 of China’s top travel agents who spe­cialise in sell­ing Aus­tralia will con­verge on the Gold

Coast for the first “Cor­ro­boree Greater China”, hosted by Tourism Aus­tralia.

“The beau­ti­ful Gold Coast ticks all the boxes for what Chi­nese vis­i­tors are look­ing for in an Aus­tralian hol­i­day,” says Queens­land’s Min­is­ter for Tourism, Ma­jor Events, Small Busi­ness and the Com­mon­wealth Games, Jann Stuckey. She de­scribed the Cor­ro­boree as a “tremen­dous fo­rum for tourism businesses to build re­la­tion­ships with Chi­nese travel agents and con­vert the grow­ing de­mand for our tourism ex­pe­ri­ences into book­ings.”

The Gold Coast is also ben­e­fit­ing from the

move by Guangzhou-based China South­ern

Air­lines to in­tro­duce daily flights to Bris­bane from

last Novem­ber. The air­line, one of the largest in the world, be­gan fly­ing into Bris­bane in Novem­ber 2010with a ser­vice of three times a week.

“We see great po­ten­tial for the Gold Coast from our additional ser­vices us­ing new Air­bus

A330-200s,” says the air­line’s re­gional gen­eral

man­ager Aus­tralia/ New Zealand, Henry He.

“Al­though we fly into Bris­bane, a very large per­cent­age of our pas­sen­gers will be on tours fea­tur­ing the [Gold] Coast. We ex­pect

to carry more than 59,000 Chi­nese tourists into Bris­bane this year. These will be not only from Guang­dong Prov­ince, but from our feeder

net­work cov­er­ing 150 cities in China. The po­ten­tial is enor­mous,” says He.

The Gold Coast also re­ceived sev­eral char­ter

flights dur­ing the all-im­por­tant Chi­nese New Year hol­i­day pe­riod last month and ear­lier this month, mainly out of south­ern China.

Win­ter points out that the in­crease in tourism from Asia is broader than just China. “We’ve en­joyed dou­ble-digit growth from most Asian mar­kets over the past cou­ple of years, es­pe­cially since AirAsia X started fly­ing fromKuala Lumpur into the Gold Coast Air­port in Novem­ber 2007

and Scoot, a Sin­ga­pore Air­lines-backed car­rier

com­menced flights over a year ago.”

AirAsia X’s head of in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing, Stu­art My­er­scough, says the air­line has car­ried

more than 300,000 Asian vis­i­tors to the Gold

“They tend to think long-term and aren't too wor­ried about short-term ups and downs in property val­ues. The life­style has def­i­nite ap­peal

Coast since it started, con­tribut­ing more than $800 mil­lion to the city’s econ­omy. The Malaysia

based air­line is also an­other source of vis­i­tors from main­land China, and these num­bers are ex­pected to in­crease. “China is home to a bur­geon­ing mid­dle class who are hun­gry for travel and our FlyThru ser­vice makes it easy for Chi­nese and other Asian vis­i­tors to ac­cess the Gold Coast via KL,” says My­er­scough. “Cur­rently we serve 12 cities in China plus Hong Kong and Ma­cau and we are look­ing to ex­pand our net­work fur­ther into China.”

AirAsia X has mar­ket­ing teams in China who Coast work Tourism with to Tourism pro­mote Queens­land the city, us­ing and Gold print and mar­ket­ing dig­i­tal strate­gies me­dia, in­clud­ing are be­ing im­ple­mented Weibo. Sim­i­lar by Scoot, in­cludes whose four Chi­nese feeder cities net­work as well into as Sin­ga­pore Thai­land,

Tai­wan, Chief South ex­ec­u­tive Korea of and Scoot, Ja­pan. New Zealand-born Camp­bell Wil­son, says the Sin­ga­pore-based low­cost air­line car­ried close to 49,000 in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors to Aus­tralia in its first year of oper­a­tion. While more than 70 per cent were Singaporeans, he says “the po­ten­tial is clearly there to carry more tourists feed­ing through from our net­work, es­pe­cially in China, as it ex­pands”.

The for­mer Sin­ga­pore Air­lines ex­ec­u­tive es­ti­mated that Scoot con­trib­uted more than $100m to Queens­land in vis­i­tor ex­pen­di­ture in its first year of oper­a­tion, a fig­ure ex­pected to

in­crease given the air­line’s de­ci­sion to boost

flight fre­quency into Coolan­gatta from five to six a week over the sum­mer peak sea­son.

The Gold Coast, which once wooed ex­chang­er­ate-rich Ja­panese tourists, has also adapted to the new source of sup­ply. Ni­cholas Liu says much has changed since he first vis­ited the area back in 1998, when he saw no Chi­nese signs. “Now you can see Chi­nese signs every­where — in the air­ports and the restaurants and the theme parks. It is very help­ful for Chi­nese tourists,” he says.

His busi­ness re­lies on re­la­tion­ships with

more than 20 whole­sale agents in China but he sees po­ten­tial for more on­line sales to in­di­vid­ual trav­ellers, fam­i­lies and in­vestors, who will like what they see, par­tic­u­larly the Gold Coast life­style. In his view, “there’s a need to of­fer bet­ter tour prod­ucts and bet­ter ser­vice to meet the needs

and ex­pec­ta­tions of a ris­ing and more af­flu­ent mid­dle class ... Chi­nese people will be­come more de­mand­ing as the mar­ket ma­tures from group travel to FIT [for­eign in­di­vid­ual travel].”

He be­lieves this trend to the FIT mar­ket — in­di­vid­u­als in­clud­ing fam­i­lies, who typ­i­cally stay longer and spend more than groups — has the po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate all-im­por­tant word-of-mouth

rec­om­men­da­tions among the in­creas­ingly af­flu­ent and ad­ven­tur­ous Chi­nese.

But is the Gold Coast up to the chal­lenge? Will

it meet these ex­pec­ta­tions suf­fi­ciently to have the de­sired long-term ef­fect? Or, af­ter a few boun­ti­ful years, will the Chi­nese move on to other, sex­ier

des­ti­na­tions, leav­ing tour oper­a­tors such as Liu with an un­sus­tain­able busi­ness model? Ques­tions have been asked whether the Gold Coast Air­port will be ad­e­quate to han­dle the ex­pected in­crease in traf­fic. Cur­rently there is a small Cus­toms,

im­mi­gra­tion and quar­an­tine area, but this would need to be ex­panded if there were a sub­stan­tial in­crease in over­seas ar­rivals. How­ever, the main prob­lem is the lack of an in­stru­ment land­ing sys­tem that would al­low all-weather op­er­a­tions at Aus­tralia’s sixth-largest air­port in pas­sen­ger

traf­fic. At the mo­ment, some in­com­ing flights have to be di­verted to Bris­bane in bad weather, caus­ing enor­mous dis­rup­tion. Other short­com­ings are the ab­sence of air bridges or even cov­ered stair­ways. These are now ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties in re­gional air­ports around Asia, and tourists ar­riv­ing in Aus­tralia for

the first time may find a wel­come in the pour­ing rain less than im­pres­sive.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Gold Coast Air­port Paul Dono­van says the air­port is ex­plor­ing its op­tions to ex­pand the in­ter­na­tional ar­rival and de­par­ture ar­eas, with the aim of hav­ing the project com­plete and op­er­a­tional in readi­ness for the 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games.

Dono­van says the air­port has em­ployed three Chi­nese li­ai­son of­fi­cers who speak flu­ent Man­darin and have an un­der­stand­ing of Can­tonese to as­sist vis­i­tors from China.

“These staff mem­bers help pas­sen­gers with in­ter­pret­ing ques­tions from im­mi­gra­tion, Cus­toms and quar­an­tine staff and ex­plain the Tourist Re­fund Scheme rules to de­part­ing in­ter­na­tional pas­sen­gers,” he says. “They also pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on trans­port op­tions, tourist at­trac­tions and as­sist tour lead­ers and air­line staff at check-in.”

As well as recre­ational tourism, there’s an­other small but im­por­tant seg­ment of the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket that Gold Coast busi­ness in­ter­ests are fo­cus­ing on. It’s some­times called “look-see tourism”, de­scrib­ing for­eign na­tion­als who ar­rive for a hol­i­day, of­ten with fam­i­lies in tow and with clear in­ten­tions to check out the south­east Queens­land re­gion for prospec­tive im­mi­gra­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and in­vest­ment pur­poses. The Chi­nese are now very ac­tive in this area, par­tic­u­larly in property.

Real es­tate agents Ju­lia Kuo and Sam Guo are busi­ness part­ners work­ing through the Ray White fran­chise sys­tem. Kuo, orig­i­nally from Tai­wan, and Guo, from Chengdu, are among a grow­ing num­ber of real­tors spe­cial­is­ing in the Chi­nese mar­ket as well as sell­ing to other prospec­tive Asian in­vestors. Their out­stand­ing suc­cess rate as mea­sured by property sales has be­come an in­dus­try talk­ing point. Their sales topped a healthy $58.4m in the 12 months to

last Novem­ber, an im­pres­sive fig­ure given the size of the Gold Coast mar­ket and that it is from just two agents work­ing to­gether.

“They love the ocean and the beach. The Gold Coast has lovely beaches, good weather, friendly lo­cal people and is suit­able for Chi­nese vis­i­tors

“When we started in this busi­ness five years ago, we saw the po­ten­tial for the Asian mar­ket, and par­tic­u­larly the main­land Chi­nese, look­ing for safe fam­ily in­vest­ments and good ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren,” Guo says. “They tend to think long term and aren’t too wor­ried about short-term ups and downs in property val­ues. More­over, the Gold Coast life­style has a def­i­nite ap­peal, es­pe­cially if you come from a crowded in­dus­trial en­vi­ron­ment.”

Kuo tells the story of a Chi­nese woman who saw a Gold Coast property on a web­site, rang her from China and made an of­fer $200,000 above the re­serve price. The sale was con­cluded the next day.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate is ex­cited. “I’m on a mis­sion to en­tice Chi­nese tourists and in­vestors to the Gold Coast,” he says. “The key point I would make to po­ten­tial Chi­nese vis­i­tors and in­vestors is this — the Gold Coast is open for busi­ness and we wel­come for­eign in­vest­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion in long-term in­fra­struc­ture projects. There is the po­lit­i­cal will to fa­cil­i­tate for­eign in­vest­ment and pro­vide cer­tainty for those who part­ner with the city.”

A fur­ther planned “com­fort point” for Chi­nese tourists to the Gold Coast is the es­tab­lish­ment of Chi­na­town precinct in South­port. “This de­vel­op­ment is about forg­ing greater friend­ship with our Asian neigh­bours and con­tin­u­ing the cul­tural ex­change be­tween our coun­tries,” says Tate. He pre­dicts the Chi­na­town precinct will “bring a sense of home and com­mu­nity to our Asian res­i­dents and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents”.

As al­ways, there are po­ten­tial down­sides to re­ly­ing on a sin­gle mar­ket for growth. In the case of China, op­ti­mistic fore­casts may be tem­pered by new Chi­nese govern­ment laws pro­hibit­ing the sale of so called “shop­ping tours”, which have so far been pop­u­lar with group tourists.

Tra­di­tion­ally these prod­ucts have been sold very cheaply, usu­ally at a loss, with the rev­enue to the op­er­a­tor be­ing made up by shop­ping com­mis­sions from “exclusive out­lets”. If this prac­tice is abol­ished, it will un­doubt­edly hit vis­i­tor num­bers in the short term al­though, con­versely, per capita vis­i­tor spend­ing may go up.

John Chan, in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing man­ager of Gold Coast Tourism, be­lieves that af­ter some ini­tial im­pact the growth trend will re­bound and con­tinue un­abated even if this prac­tice is abol­ished. Chan also points out that un­der the new Chi­nese ad­min­is­tra­tion in Bei­jing, there has also been a crack­down on “study tours” and other prac­tices such as trade

show at­ten­dances by of­fi­cials, which could slow this sec­tor, at least for a time. But along with Ni­cholas Liu, Chan sees more po­ten­tial, long term, in the higher spend­ing fam­ily and in­di­vid­ual sec­tor.

In short, there’s ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve that for the fore­see­able fu­ture, the Gold Coast will

be one of the ma­jor ben­e­fi­cia­ries of out­bound Chi­nese tourism which its own govern­ment ex­pects to in­crease by up to 20 per cent this

year. The very name “Gold Coast” in Man­darin has all the pos­i­tive at­tributes any des­ti­na­tion could wish for.

Real es­tate agents Ju­lia Kuo and Sam Guo

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.