China resumes group tours to 20 countries starting February 6, but Australia is not on the list of destinations.
Zhang Cheng, owner of Great Wall Travel Services in Melbourne, believes it is retaliation for Australia imposing additional COVID testing requirements on visitors from China.
Ms. Zhang’s agency is one of the operators authorized to operate guided group tours under the China Destinations Approved Status (ADS) program.
“There have been no ADS tours in the last three years, and it is not expected to return any time soon,” she said.
Independent Chinese tourists are not part of the scheme and have been allowed to come to Australia since Beijing eased international travel restrictions on January 8.
Health Minister Mark Butler said at the time that the requirement that all travelers from China provide a negative COVID-19 test result was a temporary measure due to the lack of detailed information on China’s epidemiological situation.
A variety of other countries have also imposed screening requirements on Chinese visitors, including the United Kingdom, the United States and France.
None of them were on the approved list for group tours.
Russia, Thailand and New Zealand were among the countries that could accept group tours organized by travel agencies and online travel companies, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced on Friday.
Ms Zhang said Australia’s COVID screening measures on visitors from China were “grossly discriminatory practices”.
“Why should only people from China do this [be tested] But aren’t they all from abroad?” she said.
“Chinese tourists understand which country is friendlier.
“To restore the tourism industry, Australia and China need to build mutual trust.”
The ABC contacted the Chinese Embassy in Canberra to find out when ADS tours would resume in Australia, but did not receive a reply.
Tourism Industry Council of NSW chief executive Paula Martin said China was Australia’s biggest inbound tourism market and their absence during the pandemic had hurt the industry.
In 2019 – before the pandemic – more than 1.4 million visitors came to Australia from China, spending about $10.3 billion.
Ms. Martin called for more support for tour operators and the diversification of the international market.
“We need to be able to ensure that our tourism operators, who are mostly small businesses, have the funding, they have the skills, they have the digital capability to be able to update their products to welcome visitors.” she said.
“India may rival the size of a Chinese visit,” she added. “We have to consider Southeast Asia as a whole, which is actually bigger than China.”
no ‘immediate threat’
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the ABC there was optimism about the significant interest from Chinese visitors in travel to Australia.
“We are confident that Australia’s reputation as a premium tourist destination will see Chinese visitors return now that China’s coronavirus border restrictions have been eased, whether or not Australia is included in China’s outbound group tour resumption pilot under the Approved Destination Status scheme.”
Australia was one of the first Western countries to be granted approved destination status by the Chinese government in 1999, and remains an approved destination.
Mingming Cheng, a tourism industry expert from Curtin University, said that the countries that have made welcoming gestures are benefiting from the increase in Chinese outbound tourists.
“It’s actually very significant,” he said.
“Many tour operators have only designed their products to serve the Chinese market.
“If the Chinese tourists don’t come, basically, they will cut their products.”
Wang Cheng runs a travel agency in Sydney that caters mainly to tourists from China and the local Chinese community.
According to him, the exclusion of Australia from the ADS list will not pose an immediate threat to Australian tourism operators.
“This policy only affects ADS tourists. It will not greatly affect most domestic tour operators, as very few of us have the ADS qualification,” Mr Wang said.
While group tours under the ADS program remain important for first-time travelers and families, more than 70 per cent of Chinese tourists come to Australia as independent travellers.
However, Mr. Wang warned that the overall number of Chinese tourists will remain significantly reduced this year.
“Australia’s tourism has been hit hard by the pandemic,” he said.
“It’s definitely not good news for the long term.”