Chinese airlines are gearing up to deliver more tourists to Western Australia, but a new report shows the state’s tourism sector may not be ready to capitalise.
Blue skies, bright sunshine, unique natural experiences and an unpolluted environment – it is clear Western Australia ticks all the boxes for the new generation of Chinese travellers.
However, while WA’s natural beauty is its main advantage, a new Perth report has found the state’s tourism sector is not doing enough to capitalise on the growing wave of outbound Chinese travellers.
Data from the China Tourism Academy, part of the China National Tourism Administration, showed more than 130 million Chinese passport holders holidayed internationally in 2017, a number expected to grow to 154 million this year.
A recent survey by Nielsen showed that tourist attractions and the travel experience were the most important considerations for Chinese travellers when choosing a destination, with 56 per cent of respondents saying beauty and uniqueness was their top priority.
But unfortunately for WA’s tourism sector, the state remains one of untapped potential.
Of the 1.2 million Chinese that visited Australia in the 12 months to December 31, just 58,600 made their way to WA, data from Tourism Research Australia showed.
All indications are that the number of visitors to WA will likely increase in 2018, on the back of Perth Airport’s efforts to attract more direct flights from the Middle Kingdom.
China Southern Airlines recently increased the frequency of its Perth-Guangzhou service to five times per week, and Cathay Pacific has introduced its next-generation Airbus A350 Aircraft to provide 21,000 more seats each year on its Perth to Hong Kong route.
The possible game changer for WA’s China tourism ambitions will be the establishment of a Perth to Shanghai route, if trial flights set for October by China Eastern Airlines are a success.
However, the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre’s report titled Are we China ready? Chinese tourism in Western Australia found that WA tourism operators had a long way to go to ensure the state attracted its fair share of Chinese visitors.
The report included a survey of 22 tourism businesses located in WA’s South West, with just one in five respondents indicating they had Asian language skills or training.
Chinese travellers interviewed as part of the report said a lack of multilingual signs outside of Perth Airport made their travels more difficult, particularly in places where such signs could be expected, such as public transport hubs, museums, art galleries and natural landmarks.
But all the tourism operators interviewed said that providing Chinese-speaking staff would be problematic and costly, with one respondent saying visitor numbers were not yet sufficient to warrant it.
The report recommended satellite businesses offices be set up in main regional centres, to utilise interpreting skills for larger groups and to be dispersed accordingly in peak season.
BCEC report co-author, Curtin University faculty of business and law dean of research Kristen Holmes, said tourism operators needed to embrace China-ready accreditation to appeal to the growing market of Chinese travellers.
“Feedback from Chinese visitors suggests the tourism industry itself may not be doing enough to encourage Chinese tourism, and to make them feel more welcome when they arrived,” Professor Holmes said.
“Online courses or formal accreditation programs could go a long way in boosting Chinese visitor numbers in our tourist hotspots, but it’s up to tourism providers, with some government assistance, to educate themselves in this growing market.”
The report found just 7 per cent of Chinese visitors to WA used commercial group travel services, with the remainder travelling independently.
WA tourism providers were urged to ensure online information was up-to-date, with Chinese travellers using a wide variety of online sources to plan their trip.
The report unearthed a distinct triangle of popular locations, with the Perth region at the centre and points extending out to the Pinnacles, Busselton Jetty and Wave Rock.
Other popular destinations included Fremantle, the many attractions of the Margaret River region, the Pink Lakes, Monkey Mia, Carnarvon, Exmouth and Coral Bay.
However, the report indicated the big distances between WA landmarks remained a barrier for Chinese visitation, because they were not well understood.
Most Chinese visitors rarely travelled outside of Perth, with just 9 per cent visiting the Coral Coast and only 7 per cent visiting the South West, according to data from Tourism WA.
“While many Chinese visitors to WA are relatively wealthy, often coming here to visit friends, family or colleagues, international tourism is still a luxury product, meaning affordability and value for money are key motivators,” the report said.
“Therefore, travelling long distances between attractions was a concern for some groups trying to make the most of their available time.
“For example, the Pink Lake in Geraldton was well known to many visitors, but the significant travel time had to be balanced against other activities.”
Other recommendations to secure more Chinese visitors included extending retail trading hours to 6:30pm on weeknights.
Lead report author, Jianhong (Cecilia) Xia, from Curtin’s Faculty of Science and Engineering, said Chinese visitors spent around $500 per night when they visited Australia, with 75 per cent of visitors aged between 20 and 40. They were looking to purchase luxury goods.
“Visitors that we surveyed said they often filled their days with day trips away from Perth city and expected to spend the early evening shopping before eating out for dinner,” Associate Professor Xia said.
“Extending retail trading hours to 6:30pm during the week would allow more time for travellers to shop during the limited time they spend in Perth.”
The report urged the state government to undertake more research to better understand and capitalise on the travel and spending patterns of Chinese visitors in WA.
“Our research represents a first stepping stone into understanding the behaviour and expectations of Chinese visitors coming to Western Australia,” the report said.
“If this market can be fully exploited, the financial benefits to the state could be significant and help smooth the boom and bust cycle inherent in resources-based economies.”