If Western Australia can crack the challenge of air access, the state seems perfectly poised to capitalise on China’s outbound tourism boom.
A recent survey of 100,000 Chinese households found 42 per cent of respondents said travel would be their top budget priority in 2018, so there is no indication the record numbers of Chinese reaching Australian shores is going to slow any time soon.
Chinese tourists made more than 5 billion trips in 2017, according to data compiled from Ctrip and Alibaba for the China Economic Live survey, which was conducted by China Central Television, and the National Bureau of Statistics.
Around 130 million of those trips were overseas, and with the latest data from Tourism Research Australia indicating that more than 1.2 million Chinese made their way to Australia, it is easy to see upside for further growth.
And not only are the Chinese travelling in record numbers – their behaviour while away has rapidly changed as well.
Chinese tourists are now largely chasing new experiences, described in Mandarin by the term shendulü, meaning in-depth travel.
With WA’s tourism offering comprising a raft of unique experiences, from the high adventure of Bungle Bungles in the Kimberley or swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo, to the gourmet delights of the Margaret River wine region, it would be easy to see the state swiftly rising up the list of desired destinations.
Of course, standing in the way of the WA government’s ambitions of becoming a top tourism destination for the Chinese is getting them here in the first place.
With the only options for direct flights to Perth coming from Guangzhou and Hong Kong, establishing more routes is a clear priority for the state government.
China Eastern Airlines’ Perth-Shanghai flight trials will be an interesting experiment – linking WA directly for the first time with one of China’s most iconic cities and opening the state to an ever-increasing tourism market.
But with discussions also continuing for China Southern and China Eastern to establish more routes to the east coast of the country, Premier Mark McGowan and his government still have their work cut out if they are to reach their lofty tourism targets.
Getting tourists to the regions they want to see is another issue – with WA’s vast distances between attractions a difficult constraint – it’s simply not a state that can be seen in a day.
Regional airport upgrades have promised better access, but with the City of Greater Geraldton still looking for funding and the City of Busselton’s airport upgrade on ice until an airline commits to an eastern states route, any potential direct connection to the regions from China seems like a distant dream.