Gold Coast hosts Chinese travel agency bosses at Australian Tourism Exchange

Australia has rolled out the red carpet for the most important group of tourists to visit the country in the past three years.

A 133-strong delegation of Chinese travel agency bosses and industry wholesalers has touched down on the Gold Coast for the Australian Tourism Exchange — Tourism Australia’s flagship industry conference.

The powerbrokers are the key to reviving an international tourist market worth $12.4 billion to the Australian economy each year.

The Chinese VIPs will be wined, dined, and granted exclusive access to the country’s premier tourism experiences, attractions, and destinations over the course of the five-day junket.

The host city’s sales pitch includes 25 “familiarizations”, giving buyers the chance to take surfing lessons or shape their own board, go jet boating, hot air ballooning, or visit the region’s best wineries and craft breweries.

a large group of chinese travel agents waving together

Chinese travel agents hold the key to Australian tourism’s $12.4 billion problem.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

Nearly 1.5 million Chinese tourists traveled to Australia every year before the pandemic, and 20 per cent of them booked pre-paid holiday packages.

Securing a spot on the itineraries was considered a major win for airlines, hotels, and tour operators.

The Australian Tourism Exchange is where many of those deals get done.

Reder Wang, managing director of Shenzhen CEPT International Travel Service, has been selling Australian holiday packages for two decades.

A man stands with his hands behind his back at a tourism conference on the Gold Coast.

Reder Wang has back-to-back meetings with Australian businesses this week.(ABC Gold Coast: Mackenzie Colahan)

His schedule this week was almost full, but that didn’t stop the keen golfer from sneaking in a round at the exclusive members-only course The Pines, at the InterContinental Resort at Sanctuary Cove, courtesy of Destination Gold Coast — the city’s peak tourism body.

Mr Wang said Australia remains the number one long-haul destination for the Chinese because of its unique landscape, native animals, as well as the seafood and steak.

“There is a great demand in China,” he said.

“Because of COVID-19, we have been locked up for three years.

“For most of our product packages, people stay at least two nights on the Gold Coast because of the long beaches and the theme parks.

“I can see Tourism Australia really has a very long strategy for China.”

Chinese tourists have not returned as quickly as the industry had hoped.

Only 40,000 arrived in Australia in February, up from 15,000 in January.

The aviation capacity between the countries is at 42 per cent of pre-COVID levels.

Aerial view of tourism industry delegates talking in stalls.

About 2,500 delegates are on the Gold Coast for the Australian Tourism Exchange.(Supplied: Tourism Australia)

Tourism Australia’s internal projections suggest the numbers will not recover until 2026.

“We have missed you”, was the message to the delegates during a special welcome attended by diplomats from the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.

Executives from Tourism Australia and each of the state’s peak tourism bodies will travel to Chengdu next month for the Chinese launch of the Come and Say G’day advertising campaign, which was unveiled to the rest of the world in October last year.

A woman, smiling, in a red jacket.

Phillipa Harrison says China is our most important tourist market “by far”.(ABC Gold Coast: Mackenzie Colahan)

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said Chinese visitors were desperately needed to offset the number of Aussies who were “traveling outbound in droves”.

“It remains a critical market for us,” he said.

“It is worth $12.4 billion so we are looking forward to that return.

“The tourism industry will not recover fully until China comes back.”