No family holiday over the last ten years, whether it be to the Blue Mountains or the Gold Coast, was complete without the sighting of an awkwardly large bus full of excited Chinese tourists. Upon disembarking, these tourists, donned with expensive brands and armed with selfie sticks, descend upon Australia’s most famous tourist attractions. Once they take a quick look around, they inevitably finish their trip in cafés or engaging in some retail therapy. However, the days of sightseeing from the comfort of a tour bus are coming to an end.
A new category of Chinese traveller is emerging. We can attribute this to China’s cooling economic growth – a depreciating currency and stock market volatility – due to the unstable contemporary geopolitical climate. Consumers in China are becoming more selective about spending on certain consumer segments. And, consequently, they are increasingly seeking a better work/life balance; one which international travel is becoming increasingly more prevalent. This has resulted in a shrinking upper class and a growing middle class in China, and a reversion of the term tourist to traveller.
These travellers are more likely to be driven by the desire for experiences that the cumbersome nature of a tour bus cannot offer. They seek to participate in a different culture, learn about customs, experience an ‘off the beaten path’ experience and engage with scenery and activities. This new class of traveller also seeks out the exotic and unique experiences that only free and independent travel (FIT) can offer. This FIT concept, combined with the ease of planning a holiday through structured tour groups, becomes extremely attractive to tourists – particularly Chinese tourists who are typically unfamiliar with English and Australia in general.
The Australian market also needs to take advantage of the digital connectedness and social media influence that Chinese travellers currently possess. With the extensive market share of WeChat, Whatsapp and Weibo, emphasis must be placed in targeting Australian destination and experiences to these online platforms. An increased presence on these platforms will increase Australia’s relevance in the eyes of Chinese travellers as currently there is a disparity between actual and potential engagement with this class of technologically competent tourists. This disparity is clear when looking at sources of information for Chinese tourists. Online booking sites and guidebooks each equip 20 per cent of respondents with the information needed for their holiday, whereas social media, which is growing at the fastest rate, is neglected. Despite the growth of WeChat as the most popular messaging app, with the amount of users doubling from November 2016, cumulative social media advertising comprised of less than 18 per cent of tourism information. Advertising ‘intrinsically Australian’ experiences such as outback exploring, snorkeling, golf and wine tours, on these platforms, are essential in promoting this new style of travel to the middle-class Chinese traveller.
The Australian tourism sector is slowly coming to understand these emerging trends. To take advantage of this booming sector, we must adapt in order to harness the full potential of this developing market. This is currently being done through creating lasting relationships with different Chinese Airlines since they are undoubtedly the most popular carriers to Australia, comprising of over 50 per cent of market share and through campaigns such as ‘Australians Prefer Visa’. The modern Chinese traveller is technologically savvy, adventurous and has an insatiable appetite for unique experiences and self-development. By tapping into these underutilised resources, targeting the free and independent traveller and harnessing social media, there is definitely potential to exceed targets set by Tourism Australia of $13 billion by 2020.
Does this mean the end of the tourist bus? Probably not. There will always be rich Chinese tourists discovering the gem that is Australia. Australia is a world class travel destination sitting on the doorstep of Asia. We have a diverse range of cultural experiences which are undoubtedly a drawcard that Tourism Australia can hinge their marketing on.