Australia given the cold shoulder as China withholds tour groups

China is withholding a key type of tourist, and it's hurting Australia's tourism industry.

China is withholding a key type of tourist, and it's hurting Australia's tourism industry. Photo: Getty

Chinese tourists are back in action, but Australia is still on China’s naughty list – and it could cost the local tourism industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

China opened its borders in January, but Australia’s insistence on testing incoming Chinese travellers for COVID and ongoing political, trade and security disputes led to Australia being stripped of its Approved Destination Status (ADS).

Essentially, ADS means the Chinese government has given its stamp of approval for Chinese citizens to travel to a specific country in guided tour groups.

Since reopening this year, China has handed out ADS to 60 countries, including France, Spain and Vietnam.

While Australia and China have made headway in repairing their trade relationship, and the former put an end to COVID testing requirements in March, China is keeping mum on its plans to reinstate Australia’s ADS.

Other countries that have yet to receive ADS post-COVID include the US, South Korea and Japan.

Hundreds of millions  of tourist dollars at stake

The loss of Chinese tour groups is a significant hit to Australia’s tourism industry.

Since Australia first gained ADS in 1999, tour groups have made up a big chunk of tourism inbound from China.

In 2019, about 25 per cent of Chinese tourists travelled in guided tours, said David Beirman, adjunct fellow in tourism at the University of Technology Sydney.

That year, more than 1.4 million Chinese travellers visited Australia, spending $10.3 billion.

Of those visitors, holiday makers spent $2.1 billion, of which group tours comprised $581 million.

This means Australia could be missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to the loss of its ADS.

While Australia’s tourism industry has enjoyed a strong recovery post-COVID, particularly thanks to “gangbusters” domestic travel, the potential loss of hundreds of millions in tourist spend is nothing to sneeze at.

“That represents a lot of jobs, it represents a lot of business livelihoods and a whole lot of other things,” Dr Beirman said.

“So it’s a fairly big hit.”

For Chinese citizens who travel as individuals, families, students, or for private or government business, their destination country is not required to have ADS.

But Dr Beirman said Australia’s lack of ADS could also dampen enthusiasm for Australia for these groups of potential travellers.

“From a Chinese perspective, if a country is approved by the government as an approved destination, it’s [a similar situation to when food is labelled] halal, then Muslim people can eat that food feeling very comfortable,” Dr Beirman said.

“It’s like giving a certification that … this place is okay, [and you’re not going to get in trouble for going there].”

Australia campaigning in China

While Austrade did not comment on the government’s efforts to get Chinese tour groups back in the country, a spokesperson told TND the government agency looks forward to welcoming more visitors from China in coming months.

“Chinese travellers have long been an important part of Australia’s visitor economy, and will play a critical role in the industry’s continued recovery,” they said.

Last week, Tourism Australia officially launched its ‘Come and Say G’day’ campaign in China, inviting Chinese travellers to plan and book their next holiday to Australia.

Ahead of the launch in Chengdu, Tourism Australia led a delegation to China of tourism and business events leaders, Convention Bureaux partners, and representatives from Australia’s major airports to meet with major airlines and travel service providers in Guangzhou and Shanghai.

The campaign, which features brand ambassador Ruby the souvenir kangaroo, has been running in key markets around the world since October 2022, with the exception of China, where travel was not possible at the time.

Ruby the kangaroo has bounced into the Chinese market. Photo: Tourism Australia

Susan Coghill, Tourism Australia chief marketing officer, said the ‘Come and Say G’day’ campaign assets have been tailored for China, with the television commercial and short film, G’day, translated in-language.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra did not respond to TND‘s request for comment.

Story updated July 11, 2023 to reflect clarification from Austrade.

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