• Performer dressed in costume entertains spectators though the streets of Sydney, as part of the 2010 Chinese Lunar New Year Twilight Parade. (AAP)
Celebrations welcoming the year of the Rooster have begun across Australia, as part of the countdown to Lunar New Year’s Day this Sunday.
By
Kristina Zarich

27 Jan 2017 - 12:46 PM  UPDATED 27 Jan 2017 - 7:37 PM

Alongside the many Australians taking part in Lunar New Year celebrations around the country, are record numbers of tourists from mainland China.

According to the Managing Director of Tourism Australia, John O'Sullivan, a significant number of the 1.2 million Chinese visitors to Australia each year are choosing to take their holiday to coincide with the festivities.

"What we generally see for January and February, the two months that straddle the Lunar New Year holiday period, is about 140,000 visitors to upward of 250,000 visitors," he said.

"This is a great opportunity for Australia. It's ours to lose if we don't get it right." 

Tourism Australia is hoping to increase demand in this lucrative period to maximise Chinese tourists’ significant contribution Australia’s $40 billion tourism industry.

For China's growing middle class the relatively easy 10-hour flight makes Australia an attractive choice for a holiday, and John O’Sullivan believes this year’s takings will be some of the highest ever.

“The Chinese visitor market now is worth about $9.1 billion to the Australian visitor economy… a very big and important section of the market," he said.

The desire for luxury experiences, especially the availability of high quality food and wine, is thought to be driving demand in China.

Australia is increasingly seen as a must-see destination for many Chinese tourists, with various surveys showing it to be first choice for overseas holidays.

Australia’s image of being clean and safe is also a major drawcard.

Sydney's celebrations the largest outside China

The main beneficiaries of the spike in tourism are thought to be major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast.

Now in its 21st year, Sydney's official Lunar New Year festival opens on Friday, and will run for 17 days. The festival is considered the largest outside China.

Tracy, a teenage Chinese tourist travelling with her parents in Sydney, told SBS her family decided to spend Lunar New Year overseas instead of celebrating at home.

"In China it's now winter, but in Australia it's summer. And summer in Australia is very beautiful," she said.

A favourite place for many Chinese tourists to visit is the Sydney Opera House, seen as one of the nation's most iconic buildings.

There has been an increasing demand for Mandarin tours since they were first offered more than a decade ago, but the past year has seen the number of tours given almost double.

The Director of Visitor Experiences at the Opera House, Jade McKellar, says 100,000 Mandarin-language tours took place in 2015 but that figure rose to 142,000 last year.

"Over 95 per cent of all Chinese tourists [to Australia] are coming to the Opera House precinct. Last year we had 22,000 people come through the doors and do a Sydney Opera House tour in the two weeks of Chinese New Year,” she said.

Lucky timing

Tour operators have also benefited from Lunar New Year falling at a similar time as Australia Day and the Australian Open tennis.

One such company, New Asia Pacific Tours, is one of Australia's biggest package-tour agents for Chinese customers.

Watch: Lunar New Year explainer

Founder Stephen Wang told SBS business shut-downs around Lunar New Year in China make overseas holidays a great option for those looking to get away.

"They can manage to have their holiday leave, which can be up to two weeks. So it's a good time for them to travel,” he said. 

Infrastructure concerns

A major concern for state governments and tourism agents alike is a lack of appropriate infrastructure, particularly hotels and new experiences on offer, to keep up with increasing demand.

Hospitality staff and appropriate translators are key factors which Tourism Australia is focusing on as they aim to make $10 billion from Chinese tourism by the year 2020. 

"Anything that's growing as fast as China needs to have new product and new experiences and that is a really key focus for us."

Stephen Wang said he could have put on more tours but there are not enough places to house the groups that want to come.

“We are definitely experiencing some difficulty during the peak seasons, we should have more hotels," he said.

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Tourism Australia says they are aware of the difficulties being faced but there are strategies for expanding tourism options to accommodate the growing number of tourists coming from China.

"There's about 20,000 new rooms in the pipeline at the moment, but anything that's growing as fast as China needs to have new product and new experiences and that is a really key focus for us," said John O’Sullivan.

The Australia-China Business Council is calling for urgent action to harness the demand being generated by the expanding Chinese Tourism market.

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Former Premier of Victoria John Brumby is now head of the council and said there is pressure not to squander opportunity for more tourism profits.

He has called for more planning to increase staff in the tourism industry to attract Chinese customers, and better signage in major cities.

"We're probably 38-40,000 people short of jobs needed for the growth that's coming. The number one growth area for us is Chinese tourism which is growing at 20 per cent per annum,” he said. 

Despite the challenges, Australian tourism operators are expecting another record year thanks to Chinese visitors and the ACBC says things can get even better.

“Never look a gift horse in the mouth. This is a great opportunity for Australia. It's ours to lose if we don't get it right," he said.