I had a moment of clarity while attending the launch of the joint L.E.K. – ACBC report ‘The China Tourism Economy: Reaching Australia’s Potential’ recently.
We’ve all heard the numbers. The Chinese inbound market is soon to be our largest, falling just behind New Zealand in total inbound numbers, at roughly 1.3 million, at the current time.
According to Tourism Australia, we know Chinese tourists rank nature and wildlife experiences as highly appealing, and they’re something they strongly associate with Australia. They’re also keen on the opportunity to meet with the locals.
As a destination, we’re no longer attracting the mass group market – in fact estimates show that up to 80% of the leisure market travels in small independent groups or as free and independent (FIT) travellers.
One widely recognised challenge that was highlighted in the report is that there’s a significant lack of quality accommodation in the major gateway of Sydney. Nationally, it’s estimated 70 new hotels are required to deal with demand at peak periods, and it will be quite some time before any of this new capacity comes online.
And frankly (I know this is not going to be popular), Sydney is not the ‘tourism mecca’ DNSW and the state government would like us to believe. Compared with China’s ultra-modern and cosmopolitan cities, Sydney is pretty lack lustre at best. Beyond the Opera House, a Bridge Climb and a visit to Taronga Zoo is a city with never-ending construction and a nightlife focused in a drinking culture that doesn’t appeal to many Chinese visitors. It’s not putting its best foot forward at the moment.
The sector that is, in my opinion, is the holiday park (or camping & caravanning) sector.
Often overlooked, the sector has quietly gone about an enormous transformation in recent years. Substantial investments have reshaped many parks from their traditional and somewhat daggy 1970’s ‘caravan park’ mode into luxurious resorts, with modern villas that sleep up to 8 or 9 comfortably with all the mod cons, activities for the whole family, and even glamping options for the truly adventurous.
Holiday parks offer immersive experiences, often combining coastal and aquatic attractions with hands on wildlife or nature adventures right on their doorstep.
And many holiday parks are in the best tourist locations across regional Australia. Developed for the domestic market, they they’re within close reach of the best beaches and attractions in each town.
With communal camp kitchens, barbeques and sausage sizzles / pancake days, they offer a safe and easy way for international visitors to engage with locals in a convivial way – another big tick off their wish list.
No doubt there are challenges facing the holiday park sector in accommodating international visitors – not least of which is the overlap of peak demand periods, such as Chinese New Year coinciding with Australian summer school holidays and the FIT trend of booking last minute or not at all. There’s also the broader issue of international drivers (the elephant in the room), especially in motorhomes, that needs to be tackled.
But managed well, with a bit of education and support for both the operators and tourists alike, the holiday park sector offers a perfect first step to the oft quoted, but as yet unsupported desire for ‘regional dispersal’.
It overcomes cap city capacity issues, and as a self-drive market, bypasses regional aviation constraints. And best of all, it showcases truly authentic Australian experiences.
A perennial favourite of Australian holiday makers for years, isn’t it time we made the holiday park sector a Chinese self-drive market favourite too, and gave them what they wanted?