What does the middle-class, internationally-minded Chinese traveller seek in an Australian family holiday? Sophie Loras spoke to Sean Han, who recently travelled from Shanghai to Australia, to find out.
Sean Han isn’t your average Chinese tourist. Representing the face of the new Chinese traveller, Mr Han recently independently organised an eight-day trip to Australia for his family instead of following the traditional path of booking an organised tour.
The family is not new to international travel, having visited Singapore, Malaysia and Japan in previous years. Australia though, was a new step, their first country outside of Asia.
Open-minded and internationally savvy, Sean and his family had several key objectives when planning their trip to Australia – to avoid group tours, enjoy the natural beauty of Australia and get a real feel for Australian life.
The trip included Sydney, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Melbourne, with Mr Han co-ordinating all the travel arrangements for his extended family of 10 (including three children) and encouraging the group to see sides of Australia not always on the Chinese traveller’s agenda.
In Sydney, he insisted the family buy tickets to a performance at the Sydney Opera House. He wanted everyone in the family to fully take in the cultural aspects of the building and appreciate the Opera House’s architectural and engineering designs instead of just posing for the stock standard photo opportunity on the steps, as many other tourists tend to do.
In Brisbane, he took the children to watch a drawing class at an arts college, to open their minds to new ways of learning. On the Gold Coast, the family rented serviced apartments and then visited local supermarkets, cooking their own meals, and in Melbourne they spent a rainy day posing for photographs in the city’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Sean, his wife and his daughter were the only English speakers in the group, so the majority of the planning and execution of the trip, fell to them.
As the Longemont Shanghai’s Director of Sales & Marketing, and boasting a 20-year background in the hotel and travel industries, Sean Han was well equipped to design an itinerary for the family that would encompass all their key objectives.
The consensus to visit Australia was based on: safety, scenic beauty and closeness to nature.
“Because we live in a city, we wanted our kids to understand nature – to see green areas and be close to animals,” says Sean of the initial decision to visit Australia.
Chinese travel agent friends had provided Mr Han with various suggested itineraries. But many included long bus trips.
“I felt this was a lost opportunity to really experience the culture and often these group tours included shopping trips,” says Sean.
“When I visit a new place, I really want at least two days to really feel like I live there. If you go to a place as a tourist, all you come back with is a photo, but during this recent trip to Australia, we all came back with real memories.”
The trip started with an initial China Eastern package, which included return flights to Sydney and two guided days in the city. Being a big city, Sean was happy to have this part of the trip co-ordinated by an agent, which included a seafood lunch where the family were captivated by the wide range of fish on offer and the many different ways to cook them.
The highlight was then eating the seafood lunch at picnic tables while simultaneously fending off the seagulls.
“The exciting moments are the unexpected ones,” says Sean, “…like the birds trying to steal our seafood lunch, approaching very fast from behind.”
In Brisbane, Sean’s careful research led the family to an art college where the children could watch the students at work.
“I wanted our kids to see the different ways of learning. In China, there is a lot of repetitive learning, but this time they saw creative learning at work, which is something we are encouraging them to do,” says Sean.
*Pictured left: “Kids need to understand that if human beings treat animals well, they will be friends and will not run away,” says Sean Han.
Sean estimates around 80 percent of Chinese travellers probably don’t have English, making independent travel more difficult, but, he says, this is changing. He believes that in the near future, independent travel from the Chinese market is going to skyrocket, with new attractive promotions from agencies and tourism bureau.
“My daughter is 14-years old and already she is asking to come back after reading local ads,” says Sean.
“We stayed in a serviced apartment in Queensland and bought all our own food from the supermarket and everyone in the family said they wanted more travel like this in the future. So next time we want to do a home stay on a farm or maybe at a winery.”
Each day the family took something from the trip. Whether it was photos with koalas, the Warner Bros. Movie World, tasting the many fruits on offer at Tropical Fruit World or feeding kangaroos.
Sean says that in Sydney, even after a wonderful dinner on a boat, the highlight of that day for his brother and sister-in-law had been a coffee and just watching people in the street. For the kids, it had been the birds stealing their lunch while his family had a casual talk with a local Sydney couple.
“This should be the way to promote culture – to really “experience” Australia and not just promote it as a destination,” says Sean.
He says he has a number of friends already planning a trip to Australia, which will include staying in a house (with a garden and a BBQ). He says friends who have visited Australia in the past have complained about the amount of time spent on buses during group tours. He says also, that while his family were suitably impressed with their apartments on the Gold Coast, his well-travelled entourage found Australian hotels in general, while friendly and clean, old.
Of Chinese travellers in general, Sean says that to be safe, both Chinese travellers and travel agencies tend to follow the most popular programmes.
“But after this trip, I further believe that Australia can be promoted as an independent travel destination for Chinese travellers – and not all countries have this.” ■
*Pictured right: Despite rain in Melbourne, the Han Family enjoyed a day at the Royal Botanic Gardens all to themselves. Describing the post-rain gardens as similar to the back-drop of a painting, the family spread out to enjoy the plants and flowers and take a lot of photos. In praise of Australia’s environment, Mr Han told the kids: “When you get back to China your shoes will still be clean.”
IS AUSTRALIA READY?
In 2011, Chinese tourists were worth A$3.7 billion to the Australian tourism industry with a total of 542,000 Chinese visitors, a 19 percent rise on 2010.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics International Visitor Survey, in 2011, the average Chinese tourist spent A$7,162 per trip with an average stay of 23 days.
The Australian Government’s 2020 China Strategic Plan, launched in June 2011, hopes to capitalise on the burgeoning Chinese travel market. The government hopes this market will be worth between A$7.4 billion and A$9 billion by the end of the decade.
As part of the plan, the Australian government has spent money to ascertain just who the average Chinese traveller is.
The findings of Tourism Australia’s commissioned GfK Blue Moon report into the long-haul travel behaviour and preferences of Chinese leisure target customers, released in March this year, found they are:
• Affluent couples – men and women aged 30-49 years who are amongst the wealthiest of China’s population
• Live in Primary cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and Secondary cities including Chongqing, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xiamen
• Are experienced travellers with an independent travel mindset who want to explore and experience local culture.
Significantly, the report found that while group travel is currently the preferred method for Chinese travellers when visiting a destination for the first time, as they become more experienced, they like some flexible travel options.
*Source: 2020 China Strategic Plan – progress report one year on.