CHINA’S biggest airline says it is punting its future on a boom in Chinese tourists to Australia, starting with a fourfold increase in direct flights.
The ambitions of China Southern Airlines president Tan Wangeng reflect the rapid growth of China’s middle class and confidence in the stability of Australia-China relations under the Gillard government.
”1.3 billion Chinese people have become rich; they need to travel abroad and they need to consume their money,” Mr Tan told The Age.
”Why Australia? … Australia is well endowed with tourism resources, the climate is different to China and the people of Australia and China are friendly without any conflict.”
A Chinese tourism boom could help balance China’s imports of natural resources from Australia and revive Australian destinations hit by a drop in Japanese tourists.
”Resources and energy are very much part of our future, but so is tourism,” Minister for Resources and Tourism Martin Ferguson said. ”It’s the lifeblood of many of our regional communities.”
Last year 366,000 Chinese tourists visited Australia and spent $2.8 billion. This year China overtook Japan to become Australia’s fourth-largest source of tourists, behind New Zealand, Britain and the US.
”Three years ago we used to talk about China as an emerging market, but it has fully emerged,” said Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy.
The relatively high spending rate of Chinese tourists in Australia means China is forecast to be the highest-value market within seven years.
By 2020, Mr McEvoy predicts 830,000 Chinese travellers will be spending $8 billion a year.
These projections will prove too low if China Southern succeeds in its strategy of expansion, promotion and discount fares. Mr Tan said the number of Chinese tourists to Australia could grow by 50 per cent next year alone.
He has spent 130 million yuan ($20.6 million) this year on ads that currently feature a young couple barbecuing prawns and lobsters on a yacht in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with the Chinese character slogan: ”Australia, it’s really not that far”.
China Southern now runs three flights a week out of Guangzhou to Melbourne and daily flights to Sydney, giving it a greater market share than its two Chinese competitors combined.
Qantas has also been left behind, with just one daily flight to Shanghai, after the carrier dumped its Beijing flight in the wake of the financial crisis.
From November 1 Mr Tan said he would introduce twice-daily flights from Guangzhou to Sydney, daily flights to Melbourne and three flights a week to Brisbane. By next March he plans to have twice-daily fights to Melbourne, daily flights to Brisbane and flights to a fourth city such as Cairns.
Australia faces challenges in adapting to the coming influx. Mr Ferguson said he was cracking down on forced shopping tours to make sure Chinese tourists were ”not being ripped off by rogue operators”.
Annie Luo, a 25-year-old languages teacher who is booked to fly Southern Airlines to Australia this week for a two-week holiday, is perhaps indicative of her generation.
”I want to meet people, I want to go wherever I want to and take charge of myself,” she said. And she will.
Meanwhile, a 14 per cent increase in international passengers to Melbourne has been driven by Victoria’s tourism promotion in Asia, Melbourne Airport says.
The Airport on Monday released figures showing the number of passengers passing through the airport rose 11.5 per cent from August 2009 to August 2010.
International numbers rose 14.6 per cent, an increase of almost 61,000, to make a total of 477,127 people, driven primarily by increasing numbers from Asia.
Japanese passport holders were up 69 per cent and Chinese passport holders were up 58 per cent, the airport said in a statement.
There was also a 46 per cent increase in passengers from Singapore, a 33 per cent increase from Malaysia, a 31 per cent increase from Taiwan, 30 per cent increase from Hong Kong, 24 per cent increase from Thailand, 19 per cent increase from South Korea, 18 per cent increase from Sri Lanka and a nine per cent increase from Indonesia.
Melbourne Airport chief executive Chris Woodruff is predicting there will be more “significant Asian growth” in the coming year, putting this down to Victoria’s tourism promotion in Asia.
“Our airline customers are responding with a record increase in capacity,” Mr Woodruff said in a statement.
“For example, from November Air India commences daily operations to and from Delhi and Air China flights from Beijing and China Southern flights from Guangzhou are increasing to daily services.
“From December, Jetstar is flying daily to Singapore.”
He said Melbourne Airport would be investing a “significant amount” to upgrade terminal facilities, airfield and road infrastructure to meet the increasing demand.