Chinese tourists look beyond the package tour and hit the road

Intrepid Chinese tourists are eschewing the traditional package tour and hitting the bitumen, according to figures showing a sharp rise in those opting for a caravan or camping trip around Australia.

Data by Tourism Research Australia shows a 112 per cent growth in Chinese caravan or camping visitor nights in the year to September 2017, as more opt to organise their own travel.

Chinese tourists are taking caravan and camping trips in growing numbers.

Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

While the total number of Chinese caravanners and campers remains small compared to traditional European markets, industry observers say more Chinese are seeking cheaper self-drive holidays as the Chinese economy slows and people feel less wealthy.

Visitor arrivals from China grew by 12 per cent in the period, to 1.2 million people. But total Chinese tourist spending fell 4 per cent to $3.1 billion, which was attributed to a 10 per cent decline in group tour visitors.

Caravan Industry Association of Australia chief executive Stuart Lamont said Chinese tourists, especially the youth, were becoming more confident to travel independently and aware of the sights Australia had to offer.

"They are looking for some quintessential Australian experiences, ones that are genuine and authentic," he said.

"Caravanning and camping offers that. As they become more confident and look to travel outside the gateway ports [of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane] that they traditionally visit."

The growth in Chinese caravanners and campers represents a total 103,000 visitor nights, and almost 11,500 visitors – a 45 per cent jump on the previous year.

The United Kingdom, Germany and the United States attracted the most caravanners and campers – a segment that includes campervans and motorhomes.

Mr Lamont said research showed that for every 91 international caravanning and camping visitors an additional $1 million worth of economic value is generated – much of it in regional Australia.

He said official data to be released later this month would also show continued growth in the campervan market, which last year reported the largest growth rate in registrations of any vehicle type in Australia, at 4.5 per cent.

The International Visitors in Australia report showed the nation's broader international caravan and camping visitor economy was continuing to grow. Some 373,000 international visitors took a caravan and camping holiday in the year to September, a 7.5 per cent increase.

Apollo Tourism chief executive Luke Trouchet, whose organisation is Australia's largest renter of motorhomes and campervans, said that just three years ago Asian customers were "very rare".

But Chinese tourists were now "our fastest growing inbound market. It's from a very small base but it keeps growing," he said.

"They can travel where they want when they want and stop for as long as they want at different places."

Mr Trouchet said Chinese customers frequented popular routes such as the Great Ocean Road or the coastal drive from Sydney to Brisbane.

He said Apollo had translated its website, brochures and road safety guidelines and employed a dedicated Chinese sales manager in response to the growth.

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