As every Australian state goes courting the Chinese market, tourism officials are mindful that the expected influx must not lead to anti-Chinese sentiment as happened with the Indian market. Yeoh Siew Hoon reports.
With every Australian state in love with the China market, and the numbers of Chinese visitors growing by leaps and bounds, there is one concern that comes top of mind – how to ensure that a repeat of the troubles the country faced with the Indian market are not repeated.
Last year and for a good part of this year, a spate of attacks against Indian students and taxi drivers in parts of the country provoked an outcry, with bloggers slamming Australia for racism and the Australian government trying hard to contain the situation.
The incidents were well-covered and there's even a Wikipedia entry on the phenomenon – Violence against Indians in Australia controversy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_against_Indians_in_Australia_controversy
A report dated 3 April 2010 in Top News.in said, "Reports have confirmed that over the recent months, more than 150 attacks against Indians have been recorded, and most have been directed at taxi drivers and students."
It quoted Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith as saying, "We know that a number of these assaults are racist. These are absolutely contemptible. We are doing a range of things to better portray modern Australia. We want to underline the strength of relationship between India and Australia."
Tourism Australia officials also had to work hard to mend fences given that India is a key market for Australia – and proving a fairly resilient one. Despite the bad press it got in India, visitor arrivals from India grew by 7% in the first quarter of 2010.
Asked what lessons Tourism Australia had taken from the India incident to ensure that the expected influx of Chinese visitors does not lead to anti-Chinese sentiment in the country, Andrew McEvoy, the managing director of Tourism Australia said that clearly there had to be better social assimiliation between students and their communities.
McEvoy, who was involved in education in Adelaide, South Australia, said in Adelaide, for instance, they were reviewing student programmes to ensure there were fully-rounded social opportunities for all students.
"Deep assimilation in societies come out of education and it is vital we get that right at that level," he said.
The challenge is the number of vocational colleges and universities which, he said, were "cashing in" on the demand by students from Asia for further education in Australia.
"But regulations are being put in place, rules are being changed and efforts are being made to address the perceived gaps in the match between skills and jobs."
One state that is gearing up for an influx of Chinese visitors is Queensland, which will receive thrice-weekly Guangzhou-Brisbane flights by China Southern, starting November.
The China market grew by 15% last year, according to Tourism Queensland's CEO Anthony Hayes, who is forecasting that the state will receive 350,000 Chinese visitors this year. He predicts the number will reach 800,000 in 10 years' time and says that China will soon eclipse Japan as Queensland's biggest market.
It's not only China that has shown strong growth. The entire Asia region (excluding Japan) has performed well for Australia's inbound industry.
Between 2005 and 2009, Asia arrivals (excluding Japan) grew from 29% share of total arrivals to 33%. The growth in volume over that period was 16% and in 2009, the region accounted for 1,880,651 arrivals.
In 2009, according to the Overseas Arrivals and Departures data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the top three Asia arrivals to Australia in volume were China, Japan and Singapore.
Between 2005 and 2009, the top three Asia arrivals were India that grew +84% over the past five years, Indonesia (+30%) and China (+29%) – these were also the top three growth markets for Australia globally.
For 2009 alone, the top three Asia growth markets were Taiwan (+27%), Malaysia (+24%) and Indonesia (+15%), and these source markets were also the top 3 growth markets in 2009 for Australia globally.
Year to date, up to May 2010, China, Japan and Singapore remain the top three Asia source markets in volume. And the top three growth markets were Indonesia (+24%), Korea, 16% and China, 10% – again these were also the top three growth markets for Australia globally.
Amid the rise in visitors from Asia, there have been reports of a decline in the number of Australian students taking Asian languages.
Asked if he was concerned about this trend, McEvoy said it was a shame. "A lot of the growth for Australia will come from the Eastern markets – so this could lead to lost opportunities."
He called Australia a true melting pot. "We are the best example of a melting pot of immigrants who have come here to make it their home and so Australia will always be welcoming of all cultures and languages."Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.
Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com . Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.
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