China boosts tourist spend

Zoe KeenanGeraldton Guardian

Chinese tourists have become the second-largest group to visit Australia according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and Geraldton businesses are getting their fair share.

Statistics released by the ABS show visitors from China recorded the strongest growth over a 10-year period — from 315,000 in 2006 to 1.2 million last year.

City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn visited China in September for a tourism conference which included an exhibition to market Geraldton.

“All tourists are important to our region, but the Chinese market is so massive that the more attention we put towards attracting them, the more likely we are to yield higher numbers,” he said.

“They have massive populations. I visited Zhoushan, which has a population of six million people alone, to market Geraldton.

“The Chinese also have a very rapid-growing middle class that are keen to travel the world.”

Mr Van Styn said some Geraldton businesses have taken the initiative to gain China Ready Accreditation through the Tourism Council of WA, to learn Chinese customs and culture.

Soaring in the Chinese tourism market, Geraldton Air Charters recorded 500 Chinese passengers in October alone this year and a total of 2500 Chinese passengers since 2014.

Geraldton Air Charters chief pilot and managing director Wendy Mann said her business didn’t have those kinds of numbers until she obtained China Ready Accreditation in 2014.

“China announced a few years ago they were going to open up travel to their citizens,” she said.

“Before that they could only book through two Australian tour companies while visiting.

“However, once you got that accreditation, the Chinese Government considered you capable to look after their people.”

Seeing the huge opportunity, Mrs Mann went above and beyond, also hiring Chinese-speaking social media manager Jacinta Shen and three Chinese-speaking pilots.

“Jacinta knows and understands what the Chinese tourists want and how to communicate with them on their social media such as WeChat,” Mrs Mann said.

“I think it’s so important for Geraldton and the Mid West to get on board with the Chinese tourism market as it’s a growing part of our economy.”

Mrs Mann said local businesses needed to understand what the tourists wanted.

“They enjoy being able to speak their own language to someone, you need to be able to help them as much as possible and they love our seafood,” she said.

Skeetas Restaurant, on the Geraldton marina, recently obtained its China Ready Accreditation and general manager Haley Morris said she’d seen an increase in Chinese bookings.

“We put all the supervisors through the course to learn their culture, what’s acceptable, what they class as rude,” she said.

“Just little things, for example, the Chinese have superstitious numbers, so we don’t sit them in groups of four and they don’t drink cold water, only warm.”

Mrs Morris said the accreditation had been beneficial and she would recommend it to other businesses.

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