Tourism operators say mandatory COVID-19 testing for Chinese travellers entering Australia is unlikely to impact the local market significantly — at least in the short term. 

Key points:

  • Chinese visitors to Australia will have to do a COVID test before they leave China as cases surge
  • Tourism operators say Chinese visitors were essential to the market pre-pandemic, but now businesses have pivoted
  • Indian and Singaporean tourist numbers are growing in regional Victoria

Travellers from China to Australia will need to complete a pre-departure COVID test with a negative result from this Thursday, as part of new requirements introduced by the Australian government in response to skyrocketing case numbers in China.

Survey data from late 2022 showed visitor numbers from China to Australia were 95 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

Australian Tourism Industry Council deputy chair Shaun de Bruyn said pre-COVID, Chinese visitors were “incredibly important” to the tourism industry, and visitation numbers were yet to bounce back.

He said any return of Chinese visitors — even with testing restrictions — was good news.

“At the end of the day, the Australian health authorities are keeping us safe,” he said.

“The fact that Chinese visitation during COVID was zero — the growth will be slower than it would have been [without restrictions] but there’s still growth, so that’s a positive.” 

‘Strong support from the domestic market’

Destination Phillip Island general manager Kim Storey said if testing requirements remained in place, the move by the government would take several months to have an impact. 

Tour groups flock to Penguin Parade on Phillip Island to see the Little Penguins returning to their burrows.(Supplied: Phillip Island Nature Parks)

“I think it’s going to take a long time to recover the Chinese tourism market to the area,” Ms Storey said.

“Given that often the peak travel time for China was during our winter periods, I’d expect to see that travel reorganised and flowing into Australia at that time.”

She said before the pandemic Chinese tourists were the largest market in Phillip Island.

“We’ve seen very strong support from the domestic market over the last couple of years, and that’s been really helpful to our whole tourism sector,” Ms Storey said.

“We’ve also seen some growth from other international markets like New Zealand and India.”

Chinese tourist at Lake Tyrrell, Sea Lake. Lake Tyrrell at Sea Lake is a holiday destination popular with Chinese tourists.(ABC Rural: Danielle Grindlay)

Robyn Ryder, an Airbnb property owner at Sea Lake in Victoria’s Mallee region, said she was hopeful COVID testing would not have a big impact on those travelling from China. 

“It’s just a test and it’s easy to do,” she said. 

“The international Chinese just haven’t been coming back in the numbers we had prior to COVID. But we certainly hope they do.”

She said despite the decline in international tourists, Chinese nationals living in Victoria were still visiting the region.

“We have many Chinese people coming from Melbourne who are studying and working there,” she said.

Business from India increasing

Terry Smit runs Go West Tours, which takes visitors to the Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island, the Yarra Valley and other Victorian destinations.

He said the industry had bounced back since the pandemic thanks to business from new markets.

Terry Smit sits in a bus at the drivers seat, elbow hanging out the window, looking at the camera Terry Smit says his business is hosting more visitors from India and Singapore. (Supplied: Terry Smit)

“When I’m asked where people are coming from, my answer to date has been ‘everywhere but China’,” he said. 

“It speaks to the fact Australia is a very popular destination.”

Mr Smit said business from India had increased and he expected the trend to continue now the Australian-Indian free trade agreement had commenced.

“India is doing bigger numbers into Australia than it was in 2019,” he said. 

“Singapore has also been very strong as it was one of the first nations Australia re-opened its borders to.

“When Japan re-opened its borders again in October, it was immediately an influx. Not a massive influx, but it is evident to us that Japanese people are joining our tours again.”

Clear communication key, chamber says

Andrew McKellar, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the new restrictions were appropriate and accepted by business.

But he said it was important the government clarified the type of testing required and whether passengers transiting through airports, particularly Hong Kong, would also be required to test.

“Clearly communicating these conditions will ensure arrivals can travel to Australia as easily as possible,” he said.

Mr McKellar said with the Chinese border only just reopening, it would take some time before international arrivals from China returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“As such, we don’t expect testing requirements will have any great impact on our local tourism operators.”


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