Australia lagging in tourism ‘arms race’

6.Australia lagging in tourism arms race

By Peter Trute

Sydney

(Australian Associated Press)

Echo Entertainment boss Matt Bekier says there’s an arms race in the international tourism market and Australia is at risk of being outgunned.

Australia is falling behind aggressive competitors for a new wave of millionaire Chinese with a hunger for overseas travel because it lacks high-end hotels, good internal tourism transport and foreign language skills, Mr Bekier said.

Mr Bekier said Echo’s research showed Australia was the number one holiday destination for intending Chinese tourists in terms of awareness, aspiration and intention to travel but that intention does not convert to reality.

“We’re number one in terms of where they want to go but we’re only number 15 in terms of where they actually go,” he said.

The Swiss-born CEO was only slightly smug in noting that Switzerland attracted more Chinese travellers than Australia.

“So what’s holding us back? We just don’t have enough airline capacity, we don’t have enough transportation capacity, we certainly don’t have enough hotel capacity,” Mr Bekier told an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney.

“We don’t have enough language skills, our signs are not in foreign languages, we may not be competitive enough with our visa regulations.”

Echo is focused on the hotel part of the equation, having recently won the right to build a new five-hotel casino resort in Brisbane. But Mr Bekier says more needs to be done to catch the wave of cashed-up Chinese travellers now looking beyond Hong Kong and Macau for their next holiday.

There are between two and four million millionaires in China now, Mr Bekier estimates, and their taste is for business class flights and five-star hotels when they take a holiday.

“We are now at the cusp of the wave hitting Australia and other markets,” Mr Bekier said.

“What excites us is this isn’t just a wave. This is a rising sea level because behind the first wave of tourists that are now coming there’s millions more.”

Mr Bekier said Australia was taking too long to simplify entry requirements for Chinese tourists while competing holiday destinations were aggressively chasing market share.

“I think I called it an arms race: around the world right now there’s about $1.3 trillion of tourism infrastructure being developed,” he said.

“Countries are making it easy for people to come and visit not just once but multiple times.

“That’s what we have to compete against. We can’t just sit back and say `well our beaches are better’.”

Echo is focusing on the next wave of “mass-affluent” punters who follow in the wake of high-roller pioneers.

Mr Bekier said China would be the key market for the next 30 years but also that China was “shorthand” for the broader Asian region, which will also generate wealthy tourists as more people move into the middle class.

He also said competition with James Packer’s new high-end casino at Barangaroo would be a positive for Sydney when the $2 billion facility opens in 2019.

“I think for the international VIP, Sydney as a destination will become a lot more interesting because now you will have two high-end casinos with two separate experiences across the harbour, with two separate credit opportunities,” he said.

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