After locking tourists out for almost two years, Australia finally reopened its international borders on 21 February 2022. While it is exciting to see tourists arrive on our shores again, there is a lot to do for the tourism business to bounce back.
Many things have changed in the last two years. Gone is Australia’s reputation as a welcoming country with easy-going people. We are now more known as a rigid and reclusive fortress that had some of the world’s strictest border controls and longest lockdowns.
The image of “Fortress Australia” was reinforced by the Novak Djokovic drama in January this year. The world’s number one tennis player detained and finally deported was a testimony to Australia’s harsh border policies, and that does not sit well with the new campaign message “Come and Say G’Day – Don’t Go Small. Go Australia” that Tourism Australia is now sending to the world.
Acknowledging the hurdle, Managing Director of Tourism Australia Phillipa Harrison said: “There is no doubt that a full recovery will take time, but we are confident that the demand for Australia is strong.”
If you are in the tourism business, what adjustments can you make to adapt to this new reality? Together with several clients from the tourism industry, Chin shares our insights into the things that you can expect and act on.
Don’t bet on Chinese tourists yet
Whether you manage a scenic spot, a hotel or a food and beverage outlet catering to tourists, the chance is that you saw plenty of Chinese visitors before 2020. And more likely than not, they were your most generous guests.
Data from the Department of Trade, Tourism and Investment shows that visitors from China were the largest tourist group pre-pandemic, accounting for more than 15% of arrivals between July 2018 and June 2019. During this period, they spent a whopping $11.92 billion, making them the biggest spenders among all the tourists to Australia.
But that is already history. Though Australia has re-opened the doors to the world including China, you will not see Chinese tourists knocking on your door anytime soon.
This is mainly because China is sticking to its zero-Covid policy and has kept the travel restrictions in place. Travellers returning to China are required to enter government-appointed hotel quarantine for at least 14 days – all at their own expense. And in some parts of the country, there is an additional seven days of self-isolation. The stringent requirement, coupled with limited flights and political tensions between the two countries, is a major deterrent for Chinese people to travel to Australia.
This was well reflected in a November 2021 report by China Tourism Academy. The report showed that 72% of Chinese people were unwilling to catch a flight due to Covid concerns, and 83% would only travel to countries with zero Covid cases. Australia still has some way to go.
People over 60 face a further obstacle – Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration does not recognise the widely used Sinopharm vaccine for this age group. This practically cuts the rope for many elderly Chinese people, who are eager to reunite with their children studying or working in Australia after more than two years’ separation.
There is no sign that China will relax its Covid policy, and with Australia’s daily caseload hovering in the thousands, it is unlikely you’ll see many visitors from China this year.
But don’t give up on them either
Despite all these difficulties, there is reason for you to keep your hopes up.
“The desire (for Chinese tourists) to come back to Australia, according to some of the research, is still very high,” said the tourism expert at RMIT University Christal Zhang in an ABC report in November 2021. Tourism Australia has been acting on that desire and marketing heavily to the Chinese market, even during the time when our borders were sealed. In a statement to the Australian Financial Review in February 2022, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan said: “Tourism Australia has continued to promote Australia to Chinese consumers through traditional marketing channels, along with trade and social media activities.” He added that “recent consumer activity has seen over 1.5 billion views of a post on social media, where we continue to engage and inspire consumers with Australian content.”
What you can do to help
If you have the capability to promote your business to a Chinese audience on social media, you should follow Tourism Australia’s example to engage your future visitors. A great platform to do so is RED (Xiaohongshu).
RED is one of the hottest Chinese social media platforms in 2022 where users share their opinions on all aspects of life – food, fashion, travel, lifestyle and much more. The RED community involves a large number of Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) and Key Opinion Consumers (KOC) where information spreads via word of mouth (or posts on RED). With the huge number of users and advanced recommendation system, RED will take your brand to your target audiences promptly. Similar to Instagram, RED lets users post photos and recommend their own experience of places.
Fiona Wang, Digital Marketing Specialist at Chin, is also a KOC and has over 2,000 followers on RED. Her posts on Melbourne tours regularly generate over 5,000 views. Take a look at her most recent post about a Yarra River boat trip, which had 8,334 views and 235 likes, and you will get a sense of what this platform looks like and how you can potentially benefit from it.
Market to your local Chinese audience
Though you won’t see many Chinese tourists this year, you can certainly expect to meet Chinese international students, who have been returning to Australia steadily.
Department of Home Affairs’ data shows that at the end of February 2022, there were a total of 55,000 Chinese international students in Australia, an increase of 15,000 from mid-December 2021 when they were first allowed to return to the country.
It is the first time for many of these students to visit Australia and they are eager to explore the beautiful landscapes that Australia has to offer. But they are also unaccustomed to western social media that you may have been relying on to promote your business.
An effective alternative is WeChat, which is the most popular communication tool and the primary source of information for the Chinese students. They will also share their memories on WeChat to their families and friends in China. Let them help you spread the word to your future visitors.
Digital Marketing Manager for Brisbane Economic Development Agency Charles Thomas comments: “Now that international borders are open, it’s more important than ever to instil to the Chinese market that our city is an international travel destination of choice. After a long break of halted tourism and business events, we are excited to promote Brisbane as open for business, travel and leisure. Recently, we have been thrilled to work with Chin Communications, building Brisbane’s brand and business events presence through the popular social media platform, WeChat.”
ACMI’s Brand Manager Anaya Latter shares: “Now that international travellers will be returning to Melbourne, we’re continuing to focus on our local markets as recommenders to visiting family and friends. We have recently set up WeChat and RED accounts to ensure that Chinese audiences can see what ACMI has to offer on a regular basis.”
You will also want to schedule your next promotion to coincide with important dates for the Chinese students. Mark these two dates – Dragon Boat Festival on 3 June 2022 and Moon Festival on 10 September 2022. These are the occasions on which you can send out a festive greeting to your potential visitors.
CEO of 醬游 Just Trip – a company that publishes in-depth smartphone guides for gateway cities of the world in English and Simplified Chinese – Craig McIntosh says: “Given the enormity of the Chinese market, we just have to be patient. In the meantime, we will focus on building our brand awareness with Chinese travellers, so that we are front of mind when their borders reopen. We will also intensify our marketing to Chinese students. Our city guides are just as useful for a new resident as they are for a tourist.”
While you are readying yourself to welcome Chinese visitors again, why not have a chat with our Chinese marketing team about how to craft a thoughtful message to reach out to the Chinese students and utilise WeChat marketing to promote your brand awareness in the Chinese community.
Present essential information in your visitors’ own language
Amid the evolving Covid situation, Australia’s policy is updated regularly. If you find it confusing at times, you can expect tourists to feel the same way. You can help them by providing up-to-date information on Australia’s Covid situation and regulations.
It is also important to make sure that your visitors are aware of crowd management, capacity limits and hygiene conditions on your site, as well as other essential information for your visitors. You can make it easier for them by supplying this information in their own languages. For instance, ACMI has recently had their web pages translated into Arabic, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Greek through Chin, among other languages.
There isn’t a shortcut for tourism operators to go back to business-as-usual, but there are things you can do now to get on the right track. Whether you are looking to set up an account on Chinese social media to promote your business to the right audience, or have your site information translated into foreign languages, Chin is happy to assist you with the steps you can take to start the journey.
Oh, we can also teach you to say “Welcome” instead of the rather worn out “Ni hao” or “g’day”!