Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell once noted that when one door closed, another opened. China’s mining boom may have slowed but its tourism boom is accelerating.
Members of China’s rapidly growing middle class are using their increasing disposable incomes to embrace global travel, with 700,000 Chinese visiting Australia last year, spending $4.8 billion. Forecasts suggest that could double to 1.4 million tourists and up to $9bn in spending by 2022-23.
No wonder Deloitte has nominated tourism as one of our super-growth sectors, set to surge more than 10 per cent a year — well ahead of global gross domestic product at 3.4 per cent — across the next 20 years.
Our tourism sector employs more than one million people and earns our nation $107bn a year. Tourism Australia research shows that Chinese tourists rank our food and wine offerings ahead of those in France and Italy, an extraordinary feat.
Increasingly, Chinese tourists are branching out beyond the traditional rock-and-reef itinerary and exploring our cities and regions independently.
Fewer Chinese visitors now travel with an organised tour, a trend that will benefit the many regional communities that rely on the tourist dollar for jobs. More significantly, it highlights the potential for regional Australia to cash in if we give more focus to tourism.
However, I worry that the Abbott government is not doing enough to capitalise on the potential of Chinese tourism.
For the first time in 40 years, our government has no designated minister for tourism, with the responsibility buried in the trade portfolio, an unfortunate weakness not addressed in this week’s cabinet reshuffle.
The government will not host Australia Week in China next year despite the opportunity to reach even more people than the highly successful G’day USA event, which this year reached more than 100 million people.
It has withdrawn hundreds of thousands of dollars for research into the tourism sector, thereby denying operators the data they need to take advantage of the latest trends in overseas markets.
And it has cancelled our membership of the UN World Tourism Organisation, which gives us a seat at the table of important international events. None of this makes any sense.
Australia beats the world when it comes to the beauty of our natural assets.
At a time when unemployment has reached a 12-year high and the decline of the Chinese mining boom was highlighted in the mid-year budget update, we should resolve to redouble our efforts to support the tourism sector.
One step that can help concerns visas. Labor welcomes the government’s recent move to free up visa arrangements for Chinese visitors, which came after Labor announced plans to deliver online visa arrangements during the recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Such measures are important because while Tony Abbott scales back support for tourism, our competitors are lifting their market share.
In October it was reported that Australia was slipping down the list of most-searched-for destinations by Chinese visitors, measured by searches on travel site TripAdvisor.
Last month the US announced a new 10-year multiple entry tourist visa, saving Chinese visitors the hassle of reapplying every year.
In November the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirmed Chinese visitor growth had halved under the Abbott government, from 19.3 per cent last year to 10.5 per cent.
Tourism can be the economic powerhouse that we need. But as John F. Kennedy once said, “Things do not just happen. They are made to happen.” By 2050 there will be three billion people in Asia’s middle class. Whether we seize the opportunities this represents is up to us.
Anthony Albanese is the opposition spokesman for tourism.
This article appeared in The Australian http://bit.ly/1zS8HOa
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.