The Chinese tourist is wealthier and more independent than ever before - and Australia's most lucrative guest.
Despite a 4 per cent fall in the number of Chinese visitors to Australia in the December quarter, recorded in the latest International Visitor Survey, the amount each tourist spent rose 17 per cent.
Overall, overseas visitors forked out $28.9 billion during their time in Australia last year, a rise of 6 per cent and a record spend.
Tourists from China, the UK and the US were the biggest contributors to the growth in spending and more than compensated for the double-digit annual falls in spending by holidaymakers from Japan and Korea.
Chinese visitors, now the most lucrative market for Australia, spent a record $4.8 billion in 2013, up 16 per cent despite new laws from October cracking down on cut-price shopping tours.
Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan said the average Chinese tourist was changing.
“The good news is that despite Chinese arrivals falling by 4 per cent during the [December] quarter, total spend is up 13 per cent, and average spend per visitor is up 17 per cent,” he said.
“We’re seeing a positive change in our visitor mix - away from group shopping tours towards a more independent, higher spending Chinese visitor, enjoying higher quality visitor experiences.
"Increases in independent travelling visitors means more Australian tourism businesses are getting to welcome Chinese, as they go farther and experience more of our country.”
Mr O’Sullivan said Tourism Australia planned to capitalise on the opportunity by focusing its marketing activities on the growing number of affluent and independently minded Chinese travellers.
Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb compared tourism in Australia with mining and education as one of the country's key economic strengths.
“It is also a sector that has the potential to experience even higher growth rates as we position the industry to capitalise on the emerging Asian economies,” Mr Robb said.
The tourism lobby is using the latest figures to reach out to government for more money for marketing the Australian experience abroad.
Ken Morrison, the head of industry body Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF), said the strong numbers demonstrated the sector’s capacity to be a serious part of the economic development strategy for the country.
“With state and federal budgets to be handed down in the coming weeks, TTF is seeking an increased commitment from governments to support the visitor economy which performs so strongly for Australia,” he said.
“Tourism marketing and events authorities around Australia needs sufficient funding to continue its outstanding research and marketing programs that promote Australia to the world.”
with Jasper Lindell