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Chinese anxious to visit land down under
By Lu Haoting (China Business Weekly)
Updated: 2005-04-17 09:19

A tour of Europe is always grand, and a visit to the United States can be exhilarating. But to many Chinese tourists, especially young executives and professionals, the promise of sun and fun in Australia is the new deal.

Just ask Jeff Shen, a 29-year-old IT (information technology) engineer.

He and his wife vacationed in Europe two years ago, and they were a little overwhelmed by the trip.

"We ate breakfast in Austria and by lunch, we found ourselves in Switzerland," he recalls.

That's a bit tiresome, even for a young energetic couple. "It's like we were on the move all the time," Shen says.

There was so much to see and do during the jam-packed travel schedule, of course, but they found little in the way of relaxation. "We didn't get much of a feeling that we were on vacation," he says.

While planning for the week-long Labour Day holiday, Shen and his wife, Polly, zeroed in on one destination: Australia. And they won't be the only Chinese tourists going there.

Australia, the continent, known as down under, is to the south of China. Few Chinese knew about Australia 10 years ago for overseas travel, but it has become a new darling to the rapidly swelling legion of mainland tourists eager to spend some of their new-found wealth.

Now, Australia is reaching out to China's relatively more educated and younger generation of office workers and professionals.

It didn't take the Shens long after reading a travel brochure for Australia to decide where to spend the May holiday.

"This time, we just want to relax ourselves, maybe lie on the beach to get a sun tan and enjoy a glass of good wine at a local restaurant," Shen said.

Shen is one of the increasing number of Chinese that tourism professionals refer to as "mature travellers."

They are well educated, well paid and want to escape life's hustle and bustle to recharge themselves during a holiday. Taking pictures of tourism icons is not their goal. They want not only to see a foreign culture, but to touch it and feel it.

That is what Greig McAllan, Tourism Australia's general manager for Asia, is trying to sell in China.

"It's not about how many pictures you take, not about whether you walk over the Harbour Bridge. It's more about how a holiday in Australia makes you feel," McAllan told China Business Weekly.

"It is an emotional trigger. How's it gonna make a couple feel when they go to Australia for their honeymoon? How does it make a person feel when he or she stands in front of the rock at sunrise, seeing the colours hit the rock? ... We encourage you to do more active things and experience Australia in a different way."

McAllan made the remarks during the recent launch of a global tourism brand campaign "Australia, A Different Light" in China.

Tourism Australia plans to spend A$5.7 million (US$4.4 million) on the promotion in China this year, up 68 per cent over last year. The campaign will include a TV commercial in Beijing and Shanghai, outdoor advertising and a new Australia.com China website.

"We spent the most money in China," McAllan said.

"For Australia, it is the biggest market in Asia, except Japan."

More than 250,000 Chinese travelled to Australia last year, up 43 per cent year-on-year. Nearly half of them visited Australia to vacation.

McAllan attributes the whopping growth rate to the low base in 2003, due to the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak.

"This year, it (the number of Chinese visitors) should go to 300,000. By 2013, it will be over 1 million, based on a 17-per-cent-per-annum growth rate, which will be a pretty realistic number," McAllan said.

"China is the largest market for a lot of countries, not just Australia. It should not be too much of a surprise to us. But I suppose the surprise for us is that it is taking off so quickly."

McAllan, a tourism veteran with wide experience in Asia, said China's outbound travel market has started to mature, like other Asian markets, such as Japan and Singapore, and Australia is ready to cash in on that evolution.

"They (the Asian markets) all start with group travels with organized meals and tour guides. As the market matures, you find more independent travellers start to emerge. It is already starting in China ... It is a natural evolution of a market," McAllan said.

"Once you get to a point where consumers are going to look at individual wants and needs, the bread of market becomes larger. Instead of one group of 50 people going to five scenic spots, you've got 25 couples doing 25 different things."

He is confident more Chinese will experience the enormous diversity of Australia.

"That won't happen at once. But we will try to convince the travel agents that's the right direction to go forward, and help them put the stories we tell into their itineraries,"McAllan said.

He is echoed by Zhou Lei, manager in charge of outbound travel of Shanghai Spring International Travel Service Ltd (SSITS)'s Beijing subsidiary.

"Chinese consumers have started to diversify. So we should also diversify travel packages to cater to different consumer groups," Zhou said.

"Visiting 10 European countries in one week only caters to those who have never been abroad. There is a rising number of middle-class Chinese who want to get involved deeper in the local culture when travelling."

Cutting prices and putting as many sightseeing activities as possible in a travel package, a commonly used tactic, will not always attract and keep clientele, Zhou said.

"We need some creative itineraries," he said.

Some Chinese travel agencies have offered tour packages built around activities associated with wines, fashion shows, autos and skiing over the past two years.

Such packages, which are usually more expensive than regular sightseeing tours, are mainly purchased by high-end consumers.

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