Australia, New Zealand in 'arms race' for Chinese tourist dollars

Tue Sep 29, 2015 5:14pm EDT
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By Swati Pandey and Charlotte Greenfield

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Australia and New Zealand risk losing a global arms race for big-spending Chinese holidaymakers unless they improve their services and infrastructure, jeopardizing hopes that tourism will fill the economic hole left by the commodities downturn.

While both countries are enjoying record numbers of tourists from China, industry executives warn they need to improve their Chinese language skills and offer better high-end hotels and transport infrastructure.

"We're number one in terms of where they want to go, but we're only number 15 in terms of where they actually go," Matt Bekier, the chief executive of casino operator Echo Entertainment, told an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney this month.

Bekier likened the competition for market share to "an arms race" in which $1.3 trillion of tourism infrastructure is being developed around the world.

"Countries are making it easy for people to come and visit not just once but multiple times," he said. "That's what we have to compete against. We can't just sit back and say 'well our beaches are better'."

Australia-based Chinese student Enni Guan embodies Bekier's concerns. Leading her visiting parents and grandmother along a Sydney harbor walk to the world-famous Opera House, she said her relatives never would have made the trip from Guangzhou without her to guide them.

"My parents only go out when I can accompany them," 23-year-old Enni says, citing the lack of Chinese signage in Australia's gateway city. "They will never come to Australia again if I am not with them."


Chinese tourists take pictures of themselves standing in front of the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, September 28, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray