Tropical North Queensland is the fifth most popular travel destination in Australia for Chinese tourists behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, but once direct flights between Mainland China and Cairns kick in, TNQ will become an even more dominant attraction, writes Sophie Loras.
In January, Cairns Airport received 4,000 Chinese New Year visitors arriving on 12 direct charter flights from Mainland China. On arrival, traditional Chinese Lion Dancers and red packet blessings greeted the Chinese tourists. On standby were specially appointed Chinese Liaison Officers to provide assistance.
The CNY charter flights into Cairns included seven China Southern charters direct from
Guangzhou and three China Eastern charters from Shanghai. Cathay Pacific added two extra flights from Hong Kong in addition to their daily Hong Kong-Cairns service.
The number of special Chinese New Year flights for 2012 was double the number scheduled in 2011.
Those arriving on direct services from China were part of the 16,000 strong number of visitors expected in Cairns over the Chinese New Year period.
*Pictured: Cairns Mayor Val Schier (centre) with China Southern staff and crew.
Although Tropical North Queensland has been engaging with the Chinese tourism sector for more than 20 years, capitalising on the Chinese New Year period has reaped big rewards for the region.
The International Visitor Survey for Year Ending September 2011 show 72,620 Chinese visitors holidayed in the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region, a 26 percent increase on the previous year.
Rob Giason CEO of Tourism Tropical North Queensland said the charter program for Chinese New Year had for many years been a welcome boost for the local tourism industry during a traditional low season.
“It became pretty obvious from the get go that if you are going to make any inroads, Chinese new year was the first hurdle,” says Brian Hennessy, Tourism Tropical North Queensland’s Director Sales & Marketing in Cairns.
“Chinese New Year received such a spike in numbers it needed to be handled carefully, ” he says.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland works closely with Tourism Queensland and Tourism Australia to promote the area through marketing strategies and trade shows.
And while Japan remains the region’s largest source of tourists followed by the UK, Greater China and the US and Canada, Mr Hennessy expects that to change quite soon.
“The biggest growth is going to be China – there is no question about that, and we expect China to be our biggest market within the next five years,” he says.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland is actively speaking to Chinese mainland carriers to initiate direct flights into Cairns. Currently, Cathay Pacific operates daily flights into Cairns from Hong Kong. But Mr Hennessy says the region’s obvious popularity with Chinese tourists (Tropical North Queensland ranks fifth behind Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Brisbane), mean direct flights from Mainland China are not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
Chinese travelers to Tropical North Queensland are often small family groups travelling as part of a larger group.
“It is very much a family market and that was very clearly indicated at Chinese New Year,” says Mr Hennessy.
The Great Barrier Reef remains the region’s biggest draw card but Chinese tourists are also being drawn to the area for the rainforests.
“There is a great thirst from Chinese tourists to get back to a very natural environment, and that is very much the case with the rainforests,” says Mr Hennessy.
The close proximity of the rainforests to the Reef also works in the region’s favour.
A third incentive, is engaging Chinese in a traditional Australian Outback experience
“Chinese people are fascinated by the Aussie lifestyle and they really get to see that in Cairns.
TTNQ’s marketing strategies to engage with the Chinese market include a range of angles from pushing for direct services between Cairns and the Mainland to working with Tourism Queensland on trade activities, and supporting TQ reps in promoting charter services over Chinese New Year. The current focus is on Chinese tier-one and tier-two regions such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chongqing, Xi’an, the Pearl River Delta, Beijing, Qingdao and Tianjin. TTNQ has Chinese-speaking staff based in Cairns and is actively engaging with the Chinese market through social media sites such as Weibo and facilitating visits to Australia for Chinese media.
In addition, the region has committed resources to ensuring it is ready for the influx of
Chinese travelers, facilitating seminars to improve Chinese readiness in the industry, in such areas as cultural sensibilities and encouraging local TAFEs to offer Mandarin courses for people in the tourism sector.
Already, a number of hotels and tourism service providers are employing Chinese speakers for hotel front desk positions, in restaurants and on boats.
Chinese signage is evident at popular tourists spots on the Great Barrier Reef but is likely to increase as the Chinese market develops more towards independent travel and away from group travel. Currently, the focus is on group travel and ensuring guides speak Chinese.
*Pictured above: The Great Barrier Reef is Tropical North Queensland’s biggest draw card with Chinese and international visitors alike. (Courtesy Tourism Australia)
TTNQ is also producing its first Chinese guide to the region in both traditional and simplified characters for distribution for consumers and travel trade specialists throughout China.
“We really offer a natural environment that the Chinese want to experience,” says Brian Hennessy.
“And we are developing strong commercial and cultural links as well.” ■
To read more about Chinese tourism to Australia, click here