Chinese on way to overtaking UK tourists to Australia

THE number of sunburned British backpackers travelling through Australia, often on a shoestring budget, is slowly dwindling.

They are soon to be overtaken by cashed-up Chinese tourists, who are coming to Australia and staying longer, not just to sight-see, but to spend big in luxury and upmarket stores. In the three months to March, 188,600 visitors travelled here from Britain, a decrease of 11.7 per cent relative to the same period last year.

But visitors from China increased by 23.2 per cent, by far the largest increase, with 179,500 Chinese visitors flying in during the same three months.

That was partly driven by Chinese New Year, but China is Australia's fastest-growing inbound tourism market and became the country's highest-yielding market in 2010, exceeding $3 billion for the first time, according to Tourism Australia.

On average, Chinese visitors spend $6803 each during their trip. Those in the 15-29 age bracket stay for an average of 112 nights, twice as long and spending twice as much as British tourists of the same age.

And while our beaches, wildlife and open spaces are a drawcard for Chinese travellers, shopping is popular and a reason Melbourne and Sydney are favourite destinations.

Vivienne Zhang, who came to Australia from Fujian on a student visa seven years ago and now has permanent residency, agreed it was cheaper for Chinese people to buy high-end products here.

''Shopping is a very important activity on their travel agenda,'' the 27-year-old said.

Many of her friends and family members from China came here specifically to shop. ''A $200 designer bag bought here could cost twice as much in China,'' she said. But while it seems the Chinese have cash to burn, less than 10 per cent of the population were wealthy, said Sam Huang, a senior lecturer in tourism management at the University of South Australia. ''But the total population is over 1.3 billion, so even a fraction of that equates to 130 million people who have money to travel and that is huge.''

He said a strong economy in China had led to an expanding middle class.

''They want to return home from overseas trips with luxury goods as a symbol of their wealth,'' he said.

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