Despite tensions, Chinese travel agents still interested in Australia

“All the portents are good for us going forward – market research indicates people want to come here when they can travel again, and agents want to deepen their knowledge of selling Australia, as witnessed by the take-up rate in this program,” Ms Harrison told The Australian Financial Review.

‘Appealing destination’

“I’m really not too worried about China, we remain a very appealing destination.”

The program educates travel agents about Australia’s various regions and what’s on offer, including interactive training modules, itinerary suggestions and monthly email updates.

Aside from the issues associated with COVID-19, one of the most pressing questions within Australian tourism circles has been whether Chinese tourists will return to our shores in the same numbers as 2019 once the border reopens, given the tensions between the Chinese and Australian governments.

Tourism Australia CEO Pip Harrison says there is still strong interest in Australia from Chinese tourists Dominic Lorrimer

In June, the Chinese government told its citizens not to travel to Australia once borders reopen. By early September, Australia’s last two remaining foreign correspondents, the Financial Review’s Michael Smith and the ABC’s Bill Birtles, were forced to flee Shanghai with assistance from the Australian embassy.

The stakes are high for a number of industries, from coal to wine, and tourism. In 2019, China became Australia’s biggest single source market, with 1.43 million Chinese holidaymakers arriving on our doorstep to account for more than 15.4 per cent of the record 9.4 million international tourists who flew or sailed in.

Ms Harrison remains upbeat on the China question, pointing out Tourism Australia has continued to re-sign a number of MOUs of up to five years with major Chinese stakeholders, including online travel agency Ctrip.com, and the three major airlines, Air China, China Southern Airlines and Eastern China Airlines.

“We re-signed with Ctrip in early September, and it was very cordial,” she said. “It’s a close, mutually beneficial relationship and there was nothing out of the ordinary, except that it was all done over Zoom. We even managed to co-ordinate the usual gift exchange on signing.”

There might be plenty of tension in the Australia-China relationship, but it didn’t stop Tourism Australia re-signing a key MOU with online travel agency Ctrip in September.  

Of Tourism Australia’s 198 employees, about 40 per cent work offshore in 10 offices around the world, including in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

“We have big ‘above line’ campaigns ready to go once border restrictions lift, and things are still happening behind the scenes,” Ms Harrison said.

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