EDITORIAL: Western Australia

How Western Australia can go about learning from the mistakes of others when it comes to Chinese outbound tourism

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

Last week, I invited all COTRI Weekly readers to participate in the symposium on Chinese tourism organised by the Tourism Research Cluster (TRC) of Curtin University together with the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre in Perth, Western Australia and – not to forget – courtesy of the traditional owners of the land, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation. It seems the distance to travel was a bit long for you, and indeed it is 2,100 km to the nearest bigger city (Adelaide) and 14,000 km to the COTRI headquarters in Hamburg, Germany.

You missed an interesting discussion on how to handle the facts of being on the “wrong side” of the continent and not having a daily direct flight connection with China.

My opening message to the audience was that Western Australia (WA) is in the lucky position of being able to learn from many other destinations how to avoid mistakes when working with the Chinese source market, as until now practically no Chinese tourists are arriving in WA. Iceland, Israel, Morocco and Poland, to name just a few, have double or more arrivals from China compared to WA, some of them without direct flights. The tiny Czech Republic, thirty times smaller than WA, has ten times more Chinese visitors. There were of course about 60,000 Chinese arrivals to WA in 2017, but most of them came as students, business travellers or to visit friends and families.

Western Australia can and should position itself as different from the rest of Australia, as a high value for money, high quality destination for the Chinese special interest traveller in the know looking for bragging power and immersion into local culture. The Margaret River area south of Perth is home to high quality wines and wineries featuring elegant restaurants. WA also sports the highest diversity of Aboriginal cultures in all Australia, enough to attract some percent of the million Chinese who travelled to a smaller island full of traditional culture, only three hours away and well connected by flights to WA, called Bali.

There are however several traps to avoid:

  • The Florida trap – Telling the same story to all markets – what works for neighbours, does not work for those coming from the other side of the continent. Of course, in reality, Perth is 1,000 km closer to Beijing or Shanghai than Sydney, but in the mental map of Chinese travellers – and taking into account flight connections available – it is the other way round.
  • The Maldives, Mauritius, Fiji trap – Starting as a luxury destination, but lowering the prices under pressure from Chinese tour operators, losing bragging rights and accordingly visitors as the destinations appears to become common.
  • The Sri Lanka, Nepal, Spain, Norway, Palau (and many others) trap – Being successful in increasing arrival numbers by offering low prices for package tours, resulting in pushing out traditional markets and environmental destruction without earning much money or gaining satisfied Chinese customers in the process – ultimately killing the brand.
  • The Tunisia trap – Being used to international visitors coming for a longer period of time for relaxation, having difficulties in understanding the needs of a new customer group of visitors who arrive to work on their bragging rights, status, social capital and self-esteem, who are leisure tourists, but not holiday makers.

But there is hope: On the Yallingup Beach, a surfer’s paradise, the sign to warn surfers of large waves and other problems (leaving out however the sharks), includes QR codes providing further information in many different languages, including simplified Chinese. You can see the photo here. Somebody got it right!

Wishing all of our readers a week without falling into any traps

Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the COTRI Team

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