UPDATE October 13:
“China will definitely be a key tourism destination for Australia and The Northern Territory for many years to come,” says Michael Bridge, named by Chief Minister Terry Mills as the chairman of the yet to be formed NT tourist commission.
“Tourism NT will be ensuring that every effort is made to entice those tourists to the NT.
This is a new and emerging tourism market that nobody would have envisaged 10 years ago and as an agency, Tourism NT needs to be agile and adapt to these changing markets.
“I expect China, India and other growth markets such as Indonesia, Korea and a host of others will be the key focus of our next marketing campaign”.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Central Australia is on the outer in the quest for more tourists from China, according to Alice Springs businessman Steve Strike, who’s been running a promotional office in Guangzhou for nearly three years.
He says there is clearly a confidential agreement, which is reciprocal, between Australia and China to ensure visitors return and are not given asylum if applied for.
This is achieved by linking the granting of visas to accredited agents or individuals who guarantee a rigorous supervision of the visitors.
It is done by committing them to organised tours, all but ruling out Chinese visitors coming as free independent travelers (FIT).
Mr Strike says he is not aware of similar arrangements being in place with any other country.
The problem for Alice Springs is that the agents, usually big national operators, may not channel tourists to The Centre because it would suit them better to take them elsewhere, he says.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says: “The tourist visa grant rate for Chinese nationals is very high, at around 93 per cent in 2011-12 [when] Chinese nationals lodged 336,834 tourist visa applications and were granted 313,512 tourist visas.”
The spokeswoman says China is Australia’s second largest tourist visa market and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship “plays an important role in welcoming international travelers by facilitating the entry of genuine visitors.
“Australia’s visa processing system is acknowledged by the Chinese National Tourism Authority as best practice,” he says.
“A recent survey conducted by Tourism Australia showed that Chinese visitors view Australia as their most desired long-haul destination and they see the Australian visa process as being easier or comparable to other long-haul destinations.
“The Australian service standard achieved for Chinese tourist visa applications is as good as or better than other competitor countries, with most tourist visas for group travelers under the approved destination status scheme being processed within three days, and within five days for independent travelers.
“Every visa application is assessed on its individual merits, based on the personal circumstances of the applicant.
“The most common ground for refusal of a visitor visa is because the department is not satisfied that the person is seeking to only visit Australia temporarily.”
Mr Strike says this may well be the case for trips arranged under the confidential agreement he believes is in place between China and Australia, not for FIT visitors.
He says many of his acquaintances in China have been rejected for reasons such as: “You did not satisfy Subclause 676.221(2)(a) which reads that: The applicant satisfies the Minister that the applicant’s expressed intention to only visit Australia is genuine.”
Mr Strike says he is in touch with a motoring club in southern China which has membership of 30,000 and which sent a small delegation to the Finke Desert Race.
The only way for them to get a visa was to attach themselves to a tour arranged by an authorised travel agent.
During their entire trip a Chinese person supplied by the agent kept an eye on the visitors, says Mr Strike.
He says tourism promoters in The Centre should agitate for a relaxation of such requirements, especially now that Chinese airlines are aggressively targeting Australian cities, soon to include Cairns.
Meanwhile the Territory Government’s Tourism NT is arranging the “inaugural China Roadshow which is a follow-up to Tourism Australia’s Greater China Mission to help tourism operators get to grips with this important market”.
Curiously, this is not bringing Chinese travel agents to the NT, but taking NT operators to China.
They will include AAT Kings, Glen Helen (Shelagh and Colin O’Brien), Uluru Camels (Kelly Langheldt and Chris Hill), Skycity, the Darwin and Alice Springs convention centres and SEIT (Kathy Graham).
The roadshow is costing 40,000 offset by $15,000 paid by the operators for participating. This includes a six day itinerary including accommodation, internal flights and transfers, most meals, venue hire and food and beverages.
Tourism NT says the trip will be hosted by Shanghai-based Asia Tourism Relations (ATR) which represents a string of Australian businesses and organisations.
Tourism NT says: “ATR is a contracted representative company which represents Tourism NT in China both in a trade marketing and public relations capacity.
“It was appointed following a public tender valued at $90,000 over a 24 month period.
“In-market services [ensure] destinations, experiences and industry products are positioned appropriately with target audiences in key markets around the world including China.
“ATR’s local knowledge of the market helps identify meaningful opportunities to promote the NT and add value to understanding the China market,” says Tourism NT.
Tourism NT is undergoing significant changes in the wake of the Territory elections.
IMAGES: Steve Strike as the guest on a TV program about photography in Qinghai, North-Western China. Mr Strike was showing photographs of Central Australia. Portions of Australian government letters rejecting tourist visa applications.