20/12/2015 11:48 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Bigger Lobbies, Speedy Restaurants And FIFO Luxury: How The Chinese Tourism Boom Is Transforming Australia

Chris Elfes / Fairfax media

The unstoppable surge of Chinese tourists travelling to Australia is changing hotels from the lobby up, with new, welcoming spaces, Mandarin-speaking staff and breakfast services capable of serving a 60-person group in 10 minutes.

Tourism Australia figures show there were 859,500 visitors from China in 2014 -- up 18.4 percent year on year, but looking ahead, it's only set to increase with many of the extra 980,000 seats on planes flying into NSW next year being from China.

A decade ago, Chinese tourists were a tiny subsection of Australia's international tourists, so what changed? One of the drivers in the Chinese tourist phenomenon is the emergence of a middle class keen to see the world but their decision to start with Australia came about thanks to a corporate event.

The year was 2011 and Amway China chose Sydney for a major five-star event with 8000 tourists.

"In they came -- jumbo, after jumbo, after jumbo," Tourism Accommodation Australia communications manager Peter Hook told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Before that moment, there was a perception that the Chinese market was a fill-in between the more mature European, American and Japanese markets."

"There was a sense the Chinese market was difficult, there was an idea of 'can't we have the easy Americans?'. But the Amway event showed Australia this was an enormous market, a very multi-faceted market, and we were perfectly placed, as long as we invested in making our hotels and resorts more suited."

The big question then was 'What do Chinese tourists want?'.


Well for starters, a nice, big lobby wouldn't go astray.

"New stock is absolutely crucial for the Chinese market, they want new," Hook said.

"They really want fresh, modern accommodation and there’s no doubt that the Australian market is in the best position now with 70 new hotels under construction.

"A lot of these hotels are being designed for the Asian market. You could say a lot of hotels in the past were built for a domestic market, with a slight eye towards America and Europe but it's all changing."

Hook said Chinese tourists wanted a lobby with presence that made "a very big statement", but could also accommodate large groups.

As for restaurants, he said it was about the flow.

"You need a really clever design to be able to serve 60 people breakfast all coming within a 10-minute period, and Australian hotels are stepping up."

He said AccorHotels and Pullman were two brands that had embraced the Asian-style lobby and restaurant.


Beyond the lobby, AccorHotels has introduced something called the 'Chinese Optimum Service Standard' which is a program designed to train staff in cultural differences, as well is introducing Mandarin-speaking staff and providing welcome kits, Chinese dishes and mini-bar products, Chinese location maps and media.

Chief Operating Officer Simon McGrath said it was worth the changes.

“Pleasingly the trend of inbound growth into Australia from China continues with recent visitor arrivals up 22 percent year end September 2015 which is good news for tourism operators," McGrath said.

"AccorHotels reported a healthy above-market 37.8 percent growth in room nights from Greater China in 2014 January-December compared to the same period previous year."


Over at Meriton Serviced Apartments in Sydney, another quirk has been recognised -- the need for larger-than-ever storage compartments to take in huge amounts of shopping.

National Manager Matthew Thomas said they'd created a new luggage room to cater to FIFO Chinese luxury shoppers.

“The dollar is down and it is worth the relatively short trip from China to buy luxury brands," Thomas said.

“These thrifty shoppers not only get brands at a bargain, their whole trip including accommodation, airfares and excess baggage -- to take their spend home -- is covered by the price they would have to pay for the same brands in China.

“The day of the bus shopping tour to buy opals is long gone."

Guest Hi Ling said she arrived with two suitcases and was returning with six.

“And that is just me,” she said in a statement.

“My husband has another six. The luxury labels are so much cheaper here."

As for the epic Amway event that brought about changes in 2011? Well it's happening again in 2017, with 10,000 delegates.

This time, we'll be ready.