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HomeIssue 40Centre on the outer in visitor trade with China, but commission head...

Centre on the outer in visitor trade with China, but commission head says Tourism NT 'will make every effort' to fix problem

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”.
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.


  1. We have just returned from a wonderful trip to China, using private drivers and English speaking guides, not in a group. We concur what Steve has said. One guide had been to Australia earlier this year leading a group of 20 something people, it now explains a couple of things she said which we did not understand, (kept an eye on the visitors) she was the “watchdog”. They did Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand in 12 days. They apparently saw about one thing in each place. A harbour cruise in Sydney, a koala in Brisbane, Green Island in Cairns, forget what was seen in Melbourne and NZ but it was all go and they were all ready for a break when they arrived home in China.
    What an experience of Australia???
    Our guides all stated that trying to get a visa was all too hard and they basically would not even try. It again explains what we could not follow, they would not apply on their own account as individuals. There is interest in Australia. When we travel we take as many of the Central Australian Tourist booklets as we can carry and hand out or leave in various places, the drive edition in particular was well received by a number of people in China, despite the fact that they probably could not read them but the pictures certainly caught their attention.
    (A funny one in Penang, we left a booklet on a coffee table near the lift in the hotel. A while later it was gone and we saw a chap downstairs with it. We approached him trying to follow up with a few questions but he thought we wanted the book or he had pinched it, not sure, but he was not giving it up in any way. We eventually got the message across and had a laugh, again.)
    The next group coming for Finke, arrange for a group of golfers to visit here at the same time. Golf in China is expensive and only the well off can afford to play.
    We wish the delegation well in their attempt to get things moving with tourism in China. It is great to see the industry people going, not paid public servants from the tourist office on a junket.

  2. “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.”
    Any chance Steve could elaborate on what he meant by this?

  3. We have an office in China.
    Done the rounds of wholesalers for little cost.
    Great reception but cost of airfares to Alice, also they like local tour guides in various destination.
    Steve is right. Concentrate on clubs 4WD, photographic, camping, painting, college, schools.
    Just google.
    Of course charter flights into Darwin / Alice.

  4. Most people in the tourism industry know that international visitation has been decimated, particularly in the NT. At a time when Australia is enjoying record trade and profits from China in mining and other industries, tourism is in the doldrums.
    It is clear to me that there has not been the same level of effort put into securing a buoyant tourist trade with China like has happened with the industries just mentioned.
    Figures released by the Chinese Department of National Tourist Administration reveal more than 57 million Chinese nationals traveled overseas on foreign visas in 2010. If Australia’s share was 300,000 in 2011/12 then we failed miserably. That is less than .6% (point six of a percent) from a country with the same time zone as WA and a flying time of six to eight hours to get here.
    Australia clearly has a serious problem with immigration management. I personally believe the current Chinese-Australian visa regime harks back to the deal done with China post Tiananmen Square. That’s 23 years ago. It is time the tourism industry Australia wide pressured the government to bring Chinese visa regulations inline with our other major trading partners.
    To clarify the current situation, unless you have relatives living in Australia or someone prepared to sponsor you, it is virtually impossible to gain access as an individual FIT (Free and Independent Traveler). The “authorised” way for Chinese nationals wanting to visit Australia is to buy “authorised” packages sold by “authorised” agents. The agents do the visa application as part of the package. It is a reasonably quick process of three to four days.
    For Alice Springs our packaged product has been gutted. Our major package suppliers APT and AAT Kings are now operating in the NT on a shoestring. Dozens of other inbound package suppliers have deserted the NT in the past 10 years. The key factor influencing the demise of NT packaged product is the high cost of internal air travel. With all our major supply routes monopolised by one airline we don’t stand a chance.
    John Sanby may wish to verify this.
    In recent years NT tourism has barely survived on the back of the FIT market. FIT travelers generally have more money to spend than the package market.
    There is great wealth in China. It can only be tapped if we free up our archaic immigration system, get over our anti Asian phobia and open up aviation access.

  5. Such problems before existed for the Russian people who want individual traveler program to other countries in the world. Especially 80-90-2000 years. But even group travel took place under the scrutiny of secret observers. But who would not return to Russia he found a way to stay. And in the case of China, in Russia, they come to study and work, many of them live in the underground illegal status condition for many years, and as far as I know that to get a visa to Russia individually become easier for China. Experience has shown the fact that if the Chinese people have a good story to return to China after obtaining a visa to other countries … but came back, the other states with great confidence opened a visa for people who have a good story. Perhaps this is the only way at this time for many Chinese people who plan to travel to Australia for private tour, make a good story of the visit to other countries, where it is easier to obtain a permit. Then get individual tourism to Australia will be easier.
    But still the problem of individual tourism for Chinese people will continue to exist for years to come, while the well-being of people living in the country will allow not to worry about the future, when people will not try to look for a better life in their country.

  6. Independent, English speaking Chinese tourists travel the world? Tiger / Silk / Scoot Budget Flights into Darwin, on to Alice Springs and Melbourne will open up the Red Centre to tourism. Immigration issues are separate – perhaps pre-booked / prepaid tours with local Darwin and Alice Springs companies could be a visa requirement.


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