by Will Koulouris
SYDNEY, March 21 (Xinhua) -- With the official launch of the China-Australia Year of Tourism in February at Sydney's iconic Opera House, Australian tourism chief said here on Tuesday that one of the strongest ties between the two countries lies within the burgeoning tourism market.
John O' Sullivan, managing director of Tourism Australia, sat down with Xinhua this week and outlined the reasons why he believes that the year-long partnership between Australia and China is vitally important.
He said the relationship between China and Australia is so important from a trade perspective, from a geopolitical perspective, and from a tourism perspective.
"This is about the understanding of countries, and the understanding of cultures, and in both countries, tourism is a big business," said the director.
Of the 39 billion Australian dollars (30.03 billion U.S. dollars) that overseas visitors spent in Australia over the past year, visitors from China comprised over 9 billion Australian dollars (6.93 billion dollars) of that spending, with that number set to rise exponentially, as Deloitte figures suggest that Chinese tourist retail spending alone will increase four-fold in the next decade.
Adding to that, the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that over 1.2 million people made the trip from China to Australia last year, with all evidence suggesting that China will overtake New Zealand as the biggest visitors to Australia, at some point later this year.
"We think in the next 12 months the number of Chinese visitors will outnumber the number of New Zealand visitors to Australia, so they will be our number one market in terms of visitors and also expenditure," O'Sullivan said.
Therefore, it is more than just the number of visitors who come to Australia, according to O'Sullivan, but rather the level of sophistication of the Chinese travellers who visit. The rise of the middle class in China is bringing visitors who are "adventurous" and far more independent.
"I think that's exciting because it gives the Australian industry a real opportunity to tailor their experiences, (and) to tailor their offering to the Chinese consumer," O'Sullivan said.
The tourism chief said he thinks it's great that these connections can be made between the two countries at a "person to person level" and this impact cannot be underestimated when looked at through a broader lens.
"The number of Chinese visitors coming to Australia allows the Australian people to really understand the culture, and to really understand the country," O'Sullivan said.
The robust relationship between China and Australia within tourism is not limited to just the visitors, O'Sullivan contends, but also the vast amounts of capital influx from China into the actual tourism infrastructure, which is pivotal to ensuring the development of the industry within Australia.
"Look at the investment that Chinese companies have made in tourism infrastructure here in Australia. Think about Sunshine Insurance Group who bought Sheraton on the Park," O'Sullivan said.
"The huge investment that Wanda has made, not only in hotels, the Jewel project up on the Gold Coast, but also through Hoyts Cinema, and even some of our event properties."
O'Sullivan also mentioned his "great partners" at China Southern Airlines, who have recently expanded their footprint into every major capital city of Australia, with the aviation industry crucial to driving the growth in Australia's tourism, with a host of other airlines announcing major increases in their flights to and from China in the past year.
With all the increased investment, however, the ensuring strategies should be emphasized not only on what really drives tourism, but also on the relationship between the two countries and between the two peoples.
"Certainly from our point of view, it's really playing to Australia's strengths that we know what resonates (about Australia) in China," O'Sullivan said.
"Our amazing food and wine, and the produce story that sits behind that, our natural beauty as a country."
O'Sullivan said the best knowledge he could share from Australia's successful tourism industry would be to deliver what the visitors really want, within a long term strategic framework.
"It's about finding out what drives a consumer from Australia, New Zealand, and other markets to want to go to China and really playing to those strengths. Because the story is amazing, (and) the hard infrastructure is as good as anywhere in the world," O'Sullivan said.
"Having a unifying strategy for the industry, and then really playing to the strengths of the country against the touch-points of the consumer."
Because, as O'Sullivan said, China is in a great position to capitalize on its unique beauty and splendor, and to further its tourism success during not only the China-Australia Year of Tourism, but well into the future.
"China is an amazing country. During the opening ceremony of the China-Australia Year of Tourism, what astounded me was the imagery that was being put on the screens around the globe," O'Sullivan said.
"It is as diverse and as beautiful as any country in the world, including Australia."