Interview on RN Breakfast with Alison Carabine

14 April, 2016

KELLY: Tourism Minister Richard Colbeck is in China for Australia Week with the Prime Minister and he spoke to our political editor, Alison Carabine, from Shanghai a short time ago.

CARABINE: Minister, welcome.

COLBECK: Thank you, pleasure to be here.

CARABINE: One million Chinese tourists visited Australia last year and with the rise of the Chinese middle class the market does seem to be of unlimited potential, we are a very attractive destination. How hard then do we actually have to work to encourage more Chinese tourists to choose Australia?

COLBECK: Well we obviously need to continue to put our best foot forward and so we need to continue to have a strong presence in the market and continue to work on all of the things that are key indicators for maintaining and growing the visitation, particular airline access and things to that nature. That's been part of the conversation that's been happening while we've been here in China.

CARABINE: There are projections two million Chinese could holiday in Australia each year by 2020, can we cope with such an influx? Do we have the infrastructure in place to cater for such a boom? Now you just mentioned the airlines for example, how much more work do we have to do to make sure that we can tap into this potential?

COLBECK: Well obviously there are some infrastructure issues that we need to manage and there's a strong growth in the development of hotel infrastructure for example at the moment. There's been questions asked around airport infrastructure and how we might continue to work on that and obviously that's something we can talk about but some of the airports are here in China at the moment. There is continuing obligation for us to keep on working on those supply side issues because the demand as you indicated is going to continue to grow.

CARABINE: And one of those supply side issues is the number of Chinese who hold passports. I understand it's only about 5 per cent of the population and that compares with about 1 in 2 Australians. Are we really going to be able to capitalise on the Chinese tourism boom if the passport issue is not worked out, unless passports become more commonplace?

COLBECK: Well look, we're putting a fair bit of effort into that right now. So we're currently developing a 10 year multi-visit visa for China and so we've also put an additional processing facility in Chengdu to increase our capacity here and we're also working on the development of online lodgement for visas in Mandarin which will be a first for Australia and for China.

CARABINE: And if indeed this comes off, we will see many more Chinese tourists in Australia. One million tourists spent about $8.3 billion last year, what do you see being the economic dividend to Australia if indeed we are able to hit the two million mark by 2020?

COLBECK: Well look that's obviously going to depend a bit on the classification of the tourists that come to Australia, but we're seeing many more free and independent travellers who tend to spend fairly highly as they come over. So obviously the opportunity is to continue to grow the yield and China is one of the high yielding markets for tourism for Australia.

CARABINE: But is it ever going to be enough to make up for the end of the mining boom?

COLBECK: Well look I don't think you can actually put tourism down as the one sector that will resolve or take over from what happened during particularly the construction phase of the mining era, but its certainly going to make an important contribution. The projected growth rate for tourism over the next decade is 4.1 per cent which is well ahead of the rest of the economy.

CARABINE: And Australia no doubt would want a chunk of that incredible potential, the international potential. Under the Chinese free trade agreement Australian companies are guaranteed access to China to construct and operate wholly owned Australian hotels, are there reciprocal rights for the Chinese? Can they come to Australia and build and run their own tourist hotels?

COLBECK: Well there is already significant investment in Australia by the Chinese and I suppose a good example of that is the Jewel on the Gold Coast in Queensland. And that's a $950 million investment that's occurring there and that particular investment has opened up new markets where we have direct flights now coming from WuHan Province in China directly to the Gold Coast and those flights conducted by Jetstar. Bringing tourists from a new market in China that had been opened up as a result of the free trade agreement and the subsequent changes in our air service arrangement.

CARABINE: Okay, so will we see many more of these types of investments by the Chinese into the Australian tourism market, where they finance and operate hotels here in Australia?

COLBECK: Look I think there is the opportunity for more of that and I also believe that there is strong interest in investing in Australia. The thing that we need to do to make sure is that the investment pipeline that we currently have which is something in the order of about 30,000 hotel rooms can be realised. They're the sorts of conversations I'm having with my colleagues in state tourism ministers and of course local government has an important influence on realising that supply pipeline as well.

CARABINE: Minister, you've mentioned the aquatic and coastal campaign that was launched yesterday, what will that involve?

COLBECK: Well that basically highlights Australia's natural attributes in the coastal and aquatic sphere. So it features things like the Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory, the Three Capes Track in Tasmania, the Gold Coast, Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Harbour, some of those great aquatic attractions that we have around the Australian coastline and of course things like the Murray Darling River which is one of Australia's great river systems.

CARABINE: Okay, now you do mention the Great Barrier Reef and just this week we had the disturbing news that coral bleaching is now affecting 50 per cent of the reef. No tourist is going to want to go to North Queensland to look at badly bleached coral. Are the Chinese aware of the environmental threat to the reef?

COLBECK: Look I think the broader message around the Great Barrier Reef and the work that we're doing as a government to ensure that the reef is protected is pretty well understood. And those messages get broadcast fairly broadly which obviously means that the work that Minister Hunt is doing to ensure the reef is secure is very important and we all support him in that work.

CARABINE: But coral bleaching is getting worse, are we at risk of losing one of our biggest tourist attractions?

COLBECK: Well obviously Minister Hunt and the Government are monitoring that event, very unfortunate event, closely and it is an important issue for Australia because as you indicate quite rightly, it's a well-known and important tourism attraction for Australia.

CARABINE: Minister, thanks for your time.

COLBECK: It's a pleasure. Thanks Alison.

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