Opinion | Hunter needs to lure more Chinese visitors | Bob Hawes

There’s no doubt the Hunter has a plethora of natural and lifestyle attractions. 

No other regional city in NSW can boast of fantastic beaches, a bustling arts and culture scene, and standing as one of the world’s premier wine regions. Yet clearly we’re not selling those attractions as well as we could do to our Chinese visitors. 

Chinese tourists spent a record $8.9 billion in Australia in 2016, an increase of 40 per cent over 2015. The overall contribution to annual GDP is expected to grow from $7.7billion currently to $13billion by 2020. Big numbers indeed and the benefits are flowing mainly to Australia’s big cities, not to the regions. 

In the big smoke, the Chinese visitor market is booming, making up more than one in five international visitors to Sydney. Regional NSW is, to a large extent, missing out on this boom. Fewer than one in 20 international visitors to regional centres like the Hunter are Chinese. 

To maximise the huge economic opportunity the Chinese visitor market represents, industry and government must take urgent action. We need to identify practical strategies that will attract more Chinese tourists to the regions, and extend their stay in NSW with a trip to the Hunter or another regional location.

The Hunter Business Chamber hosted a roundtable in Newcastle recently with the aim of identifying the challenges our tourism operators and businesses have in attracting Chinese visitors, and to start developing solutions to overcome them. The group of senior tourism operators, business leaders and experts in Chinese markets found that tackling the Chinese visitor market was a multi-dimensional issue. 

At the regional end, it’s about how we offer and package our attributes; having language and communication skills for non-English speaking visitors; understanding the mediums and networks they rely on. At the big end it’s working with organisations such as Tourism Australia and Destination NSW. 

The Hunter business community is working on a real plan of action to take to government. The result, we hope, will be tourism strategies that will help Hunter businesses market their products and services better to a booming  sector. 

We pride ourselves on our diverse and vibrant region. Let’s get out there and make sure the rest of the world recognises it.

Bob Hawes is the CEO of Hunter Business Chamber