Cairns & Great Barrier Reef has an enormous legacy in China thanks to the long-established relationships with our operators and TTNQ’s active engagement over many years. This was demonstrated in the warm reception that China Sales and Marketing Manager Harriet Ganfield and I received as part of the Team Queensland Mission to China.
The Tourism and Events Queensland delegation visited Shanghai and Guangzhou to reconnect with aviation, tourism and media partners and encourage Chinese visitors to return to Queensland.
Tourism and aviation have rebounded to almost 90% of 2019 levels in China, but it is predominantly domestic and short-haul. Outbound long-haul with trade is only around 20%. There is hope that this may get to 35% later this year, but some trade believe it will take three to five years to reach the volume of Chinese visitors we enjoyed in 2019.
Since the easing of travel restrictions in January, China has released two lists of preferred destinations allowing for organised group travel to resume, but Australia is yet to be selected. We hope a third wave of preferred destination announcements will be made soon.
Over the past three years TTNQ has stayed very active on Chinese social media, ranking in the top five destinations globally. Australia is currently ranked fifth in search according to Trip.com, down from our third-place ranking pre-pandemic. However, there is very strong awareness of the Great Barrier Reef from our consistent efforts which holds us in good stead.
The barriers to Chinese visitor numbers returning include Australia not being a preferred destination and a lack of direct air services. There is also a nervousness that Chinese speaking staff have not returned yet to host in Australia. Short-term solutions include itinerary development incorporating other gateway cities in Australia and New Zealand and focusing on larger niches with a strong desire for nature-based travel such as diving, sports and photography.
The traditional trade in China are currently rebuilding their teams and retail stores so it is great timing to be working together again. Online travel agent bookings and niche travel trade are picking up outbound travellers for preferred destinations like New Zealand. These high-spending travellers are couples or families undertaking 10-14 day itineraries. There is strong growth in the use of mobiles in preference to desktop searches and booking.
Social platforms are increasingly being used for travel inspiration with planning and booking, including post-arrival booking, via WeChat, Red Book, Mafengwo and Chinese TikTok (Douyin).
Unique destinations with a story to tell are gaining market share with the first wave of outbound to Africa, United Arab Emirates and New Zealand seen as worth spending two weeks in as they are personalised and unique.
Traditional trip planning has seen some changes with the first wave of free and independent travellers, but some trends that may remain include looking at experiences first and then choosing the destination that best offers them.
Domestic travel in China is trending towards eco-luxury with growth in nature-based activities including camping. The road trip is also emerging with platforms like zuzuche.com seeing 20% of their customers searching for road trips in Australia.
TTNQ is increasing our activity in the China market to be ready for when Australia once again becomes a preferred destination for the Chinese. This includes ramping up our public relations activity with in-market PR representative Contineo, a focus on social content to keep a strong share of voice and planning a Cairns & Great Barrier Reef industry mission in September.
Training is being organised for new staff and existing partners in China to increase product knowledge and reassure them that we are ready with staff. We are working with the larger retailers who know our destination well to provide theming, training and events to coincide with the reopening of their retail stores.
Finally, we will work with Cairns Airport to explore options for a seasonal service for Chinese New Year in 2024 to drive demand from our largest pre-pandemic international market.
There is much excitement from the Chinese trade about being a part of the Australian Tourism Exchange once again and we will further strengthen our relationships during our meetings with them this week.
Chief Executive Officer